• Question: Why do the elements have symbols instead of just saying the name

    Asked by anon-312121 on 1 Apr 2022.
    • Photo: Matthew Macariou

      Matthew Macariou answered on 2 Mar 2022:

      There are a number of uses that are better done with symbols. Here are some:

      Element names differ depending on the language you speak. For example, oxygen is called sauerstoff in german.
      However we use the same symbol O whether we speak english, german or any other language.
      So symbols are recognisable, because the same symbols are used wherever you are in the world.

      Another reason for using symbols is that it makes it possible to write chemical formulae that tell you the number of atoms of each type in a compound. It’s much easier to do with symbols and numbers than it would be to describe every formula with only words

    • Photo: Lesley Howell

      Lesley Howell answered on 3 Mar 2022:

      In addition to Matthews answers – using the symbols allows us to easily display them visually in the form of the periodic table. This makes it easy for us to study them and predict properties.

    • Photo: Stephen Doughty

      Stephen Doughty answered on 3 Mar 2022:

      Matthew and Lesley have provided great answers – but think about water which is H2O – try saying “hydrogen-hydrogen-oxygen” – and that’s a molecule with only 3 atoms!! You’d probably describe it as hydrogen-oxygen-hydrogen anyway.

      Quite a few of the less obvious symbols come from latin names for the elements – you could try to find out some examples and what the latin name is (e.g. lead or iron).

    • Photo: Mahoulo Ahouansou

      Mahoulo Ahouansou answered on 4 Mar 2022:

      Symbols are for ease of use, for example to write down equation. It is also easier to memorize.

    • Photo: Richa Sharma

      Richa Sharma answered on 8 Mar 2022:

      I think the previous answers sum it all up. But most important I think is the need to shorten the names of compounds. You wouldn’t want to always call/write about a person as Mister Mathhew Maurice Meyburn McDonagall. You would rather shorten it to Mr. M.M.M. McDonagall. Its the same for molecules, symbols make it easier to shorthand. Especially when you are writing long equations. Such as the one below:
      4 NH4OH + KAl(SO4)2·12H2O → Al(OH)3 + 2 (NH4)2SO4 + KOH + 12 H2O

    • Photo: Sophie Strickfuss

      Sophie Strickfuss answered on 9 Mar 2022:

      In addition to what has already been said, using symbols also allows you to draw molecules easily, so that the bonds between atoms can be displayed.

      For example, there are several compounds with the molecular formula C2H6O. One is ethanol, CH3-CH2-OH, a liquid that people like drinking, another is dimethyl ether, CH3-O-CH3, which is a gas used to treat warts! You wouldn’t want to get them confused… By drawing the molecules using the symbols, you can easily show that the atoms are arranged differently and that the compounds are different.

    • Photo: Amit Vernekar

      Amit Vernekar answered on 10 Mar 2022:

      Symbols represent particular elements. Chemistry deals with the study of chemical reactions given directly by the scheme (easy to understand) and not by writing discussion. To understand the chemical reaction, symbols are preferred to understand the structures. Writing names across the structure would be cumbersome and will lead to inconvenience.