The properties of solids, liquids and gases

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The properties of solids, liquids and gases
Water can exist as a liquid, solid or gas. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Solids, liquids and gases are the three most common states of matter observable in everyday life. Plasma can also be encountered on Earth and is often referred to as the fourth fundamental state of matter. The properties and behaviour of these different states of matter result from differences in the arrangement of their constituent particles.

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Particles in a solid are tightly packed. They vibrate but do not move freely about. Solid substances have a definite volume and shape. They are not easily compressed and only usually change shape when an external force is applied. Crystalline solids such as quartz and table salt have all their particles arranged in a regularly ordered, repeating pattern. Amorphous solids such as glass and plastics have a less regular structure and no fixed melting point. This means that when heat is applied they will pass through an amorphous or "rubbery" state.


The particles in a liquid are less tightly packed than a solid but more tightly packed than a gas. Particles can move past each other, allowing the liquid to flow. They have a definite volume but no fixed shape. They are not easily compressed and if placed in a container a liquid will assume they will take the shape of the part of the container they fill. The viscosity, or resistance of a liquid to flow, can vary quite widely between different liquids.


The particles in a gas are widely separated and can move about freely. They have no definite volume or shape. Gases are easily compressible and will also expand to fill the shape of a container. If there is no container or other constraining element a gas will spread out indefinitely, effectively dispersing itself. The density of a gas is far less than that of a solid or liquid.

Changing states

Substances can change from one state of matter to another without changing their chemical structure. This is generally achieved by applying heat. A solid will change to a liquid when it reaches its melting point and a liquid will change to a gas when it reaches its boiling point. The process can also be reversed. During the cooling process a gas can condense into a liquid and a liquid can freeze into a solid. Some solids will skip the intermediate liquid state to become a gas and vice versa. When solids change into gas the process is called sublimation. When gases turn into solids it is called deposition.

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