Properties of carbon

Carbon atoms possesses some remarkable properties.

  • They can form strong, stable covalent bonds to other carbon atoms and many different types of atom.
  • They can build up chains of carbon atoms to form a carbon ‘skeleton’. (catenation – literally ‘chain making’)
  • They can form multiple bonds, both with other carbon atoms or chains, and with other elements.

These three factors allow carbon to produce, literally, millions of different compounds, many of which are found in living systems. The definition of organic compound is now taken to mean a compound of carbon that is not a simple mineral compound. Again, this is pretty vague, but means that carbonates, hydrogen carbonates and oxides are excluded from the definition.

Carbon is often bonded to hydrogen and oxygen in its compounds. Those compounds that contain carbon and hydrogen only are called hydrocarbons.