What Is Matter?

Core Concept

In this tutorial, you will learn about matter, its properties, an introduction about its history, the difference between matter and mass.

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Defining Matter

In science there are many different definitions of matter. Usually in chemistry, it is anything that has mass and takes up space. You need at least one subatomic particle to call something matter. So the substance must contain something smaller than an atom, E.g. a proton, neutron, or electron.

phases of matter

Matter exists in three states: solid, liquid, and gas. The energy of the particles and the conditions of the surroundings the particles are in (temperature, pressure, etc.) determine what state matter is in. During matter’s phase transition, it changes from one state to another. For instance, ice converts to water as energy is added, and that energy is heat. If you continuously add heat energy the water begins to boil and change into steam. Add even more energy and that and the steam breaks down into component atoms.

*Don’t confuse mass with weight, mass is the amount of something in an object. Weight is the measure of the force of gravity acting on an object.

Matter Versus Mass

It’s important to remember that while matter does have mass, the two terms can not be used interchangeably.

Properties of Matter

In general, the properties of matter are characteristics that can be used to describe and differentiate one type from another. Some examples of properties of matter include mass, density, color, hardness, melting and boiling points, and solubility.

One of the most important properties is its mass, which is a measure of the amount of matter contained in an object. Mass is typically measured in units of grams or kilograms. Another important property is density, which is defined as the mass of the object divided by its volume. Density is typically measured in units of grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3).

The color of matter is another important property, and is determined by the wavelengths of light that are absorbed, reflected, or transmitted. Hardness is a measure of its resistance to deformation or scratching, and is an important factor in many industrial and manufacturing processes.

Melting and boiling points are also important properties, and are determined by the forces of attraction between the particles of the matter. The solubility of matter is a measure of its ability to dissolve in a solvent, and is important in many chemical reactions and processes.

Overall, the properties of matter are fundamental to our understanding of the physical world, and are essential for many scientific and practical applications.

Examples of Matter

Some examples include solids, liquids, and gases. Some specific examples of matter include:

  • Solids: table, chair, pencil, rock, iron, gold
  • Liquids: water, juice, milk, oil, alcohol
  • Gases: air, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, natural gas

In addition to these common forms of matter, there are also many other types, including plasma (the fourth state of matter), colloids, and suspensions. These types of matter are less common, but are still important in many scientific and practical applications.


Greek scientists were the first to wonder about matter. They wondered if you could break it into smaller pieces, would you end up with the smallest pieces? They called these small pieces atoms. The word atom literally means “which cannot be cut”. They came to a realization that atoms were indestructible. They went further into this theory and postulated that thoughts and feelings were made of atoms. While this is very much an extension of the truth, the concepts of atoms we have today differ from the Greeks.

Presentation of science (matter)