[ el-uh-muhnt ]
/ ˈɛl ə mənt /
Save This Word!
See synonyms for: element / elements on Thesaurus.com



How Does The Word "Element" Have 15 Definitions?

The word element actually has 15 definitions, it has meanings beyond science.

There are grammar debates that never die; and the ones highlighted in the questions in this quiz are sure to rile everyone up once again. Do you know how to answer the questions that cause some of the greatest grammar debates?
Question 1 of 7
Which sentence is correct?

Origin of element

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English, from Old French, from Latin elementum “one of the four elements, letter of the alphabet, first principle, rudiment”

synonym study for element

1, 2. Element, component, constituent, ingredient refer to units that are parts of whole or complete substances, systems, compounds, or mixtures. Element denotes a fundamental, ultimate part: the basic elements of matter; resolve the problem into its elements. Component and constituent refer to a part that goes into the making of a complete system or compound. Component often refers to one of a number of parts: Lab work is an important component of the science course. Constituent suggests a necessary part of the whole: The constituents of a molecule of water are two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Ingredient is most frequently used in nonscientific contexts: the ingredients of a cake; the ingredients of a successful marriage.


in·ter·el·e·ment, adjective, nounsub·el·e·ment, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a basic definition of element?

An element is a substance that cannot be separated into simpler substances through chemistry. An element is also an important component of something or a natural habitat. Element has many other senses as a noun.

In chemistry, an element is something that cannot be broken down any further. If you have taken a chemistry class, you’ve likely seen the periodic table, which displays all the known chemical elements. The study and measuring of elements is one of the central focuses of the scientific field of chemistry. For example, water (H2O) is made of the elements hydrogen and oxygen. We can split water into hydrogen and oxygen, but we cannot use chemistry to split oxygen or hydrogen into anything else.

  • Real-life examples: The substances we know as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and gold are examples of elements.
  • Used in a sentence: Ammonia is made of the elements nitrogen and hydrogen.

Outside of science, an element is a main component or ingredient of something, as bricks would be for a brick wall, for example. The words elemental and elementary are sometimes used in a similar sense to describe things that are the simplest principles or basic components of something.

  • Real-life examples: Peanut butter, jelly, and bread are the elements of a PB&J sandwich. Cement and water are elements of concrete. Tires, brakes, and an engine are elements of a functioning vehicle.
  • Used in a sentence: Love and trust are elements of a strong relationship.

An element can also be a place where someone or something feels comfortable or naturally wants to be. In terms of people, we say a person is “in their element” when they are doing something they are really good at or in a situation that they really enjoy.

  • Real-life examples: A kitchen is the element of a professional chef. A surfer is in their element at a beach with a lot of big waves. The rainforest is the element of jaguars.
  • Used in a sentence: The supermodel was in his element while posing for pictures during the movie premiere.

Where does element come from?

The first records of element come from around 1250. It ultimately comes from the Latin elementum, meaning “one of the four elements” or “rudiment.”

In early history, it was thought that all of creation was made of four basic things: earth, air, fire, and water. The word elementum referred to these substances.

Today, we know that creation is actually more complicated, but we sometimes still use the word element to refer to these substances, particularly in fantasy stories and other works of fiction.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to element?

  • interelement (adjective, noun)
  • subelement (noun)

What are some synonyms for element?

What are some words that share a root or word element with element

What are some words that often get used in discussing element?

How is element used in real life?

Element is a word often used in reference to chemistry or a main component of something.

Try using element!

True or False?

In chemistry, an element is a substance that cannot be further separated into simpler parts.

How to use element in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for element

/ (ˈɛlɪmənt) /


Word Origin for element

C13: from Latin elementum a first principle, alphabet, element, of uncertain origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for element

[ ĕlə-mənt ]

A substance that cannot be broken down into simpler substances by chemical means. An element is composed of atoms that have the same atomic number, that is, each atom has the same number of protons in its nucleus as all other atoms of that element. Today 117 elements are known, of which 92 are known to occur in nature, while the remainder have only been made with particle accelerators. Eighty-one of the elements have isotopes that are stable. The others, including technetium, promethium, and those with atomic numbers higher than 83, are radioactive. See Periodic Table.
Mathematics A member of a set.

Word History

When Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev devised the Periodic Table in 1869, there were 63 known elements, which he classified by atomic weight, and arranged a table listing them with vertical rows corresponding to shared chemical characteristics. Gaps in the table suggested the possibility of elements not yet discovered, and indeed elements were later discovered, or in some cases, artificially created, that filled the gaps and had the expected chemical properties. The striking correlation between the atomic weight of an element and its chemical properties was later explained by quantum mechanical theories of the atom. The weight of an atom of any given element depends on the number of protons (and neutrons) in its nucleus, but the number of protons also determines the number and arrangement of electrons that can orbit the nucleus, and it is these outer shells of electrons that largely determine the element's chemical properties.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for element


In chemistry, any material (such as carbon, hydrogen, iron, or oxygen) that cannot be broken down into more fundamental substances. Each chemical element has a specific type of atom, and chemical compounds are created when atoms of different elements are bound together into molecules. There are 119 chemical elements whose discovery has been claimed; 92 occur in nature, and the rest have been produced in laboratories.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with element


see brave the elements; in one's element.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.