In this article you will find an explanation of the general properties of matter . We will see how these have to do with the physical and chemical characteristics of bodies or objects.

You will find a summary of what each of these properties consists of, and examples of each.

What is matter?

Before we talk about the general properties of matter, let’s try to explain what matter is. This is the main component of bodies (i.e., physical objects); it is the substance that makes up these objects . It can take different forms, and undergo different changes.

Matter has a number of properties, both physical and chemical, that can be perceived through our senses. On a chemical level, matter can be presented in three different states: liquid, solid or gaseous.

General properties of matter

What are the general properties of matter? They are those characteristics of matter that are related to its physical properties, such as the weight of objects, their volume, size, length… as well as their chemical properties, through which matter itself modifies its composition .

1. Volume

The first of the general properties of matter we are going to talk about is volume. Volume is the amount of three-dimensional space that a closed surface encloses ; it is the space that a body occupies (or the space it contains).

This space has three dimensions: height, width and length. The unit of measurement of the volume, according to the SI (International System), is the cubic metre, which is expressed in m3. An example of volume can be found in books; its volume is equal to its length x width x thickness.

2. Weight

Weight, another property of matter; consists of the gravitational force acting on a body . On a mathematical level, weight is equal to: Fg (gravitational force) = m (mass) x g (acceleration of gravity). (Note: the acceleration of gravity = 9.8 m/sec2). In this case, its unit according to the SI is Newton, and is expressed by: kg-m-seg-2.

When we talk about weight, we mean, although it sounds repetitive, how much an object weighs; heavy objects (e.g. a metal box) are more difficult to pick up or drag than objects that weigh less (e.g. a pen). Thus, the heavier a body, the greater the gravitational force acting on it.

To illustrate this with an example, let us think of the weight of a person; according to the above mathematical formula, his weight on the Moon will be much less than on Earth, and this is because the gravity on the Moon is less.

3. Mobility

The next of the general properties of matter is mobility, which is related to the speed at which a body moves through the medium .

In physics, mobility has to do with the ease with which a charged particle moves through a solid material, under the influence of an electric field; thus, the greater the speed at which the particle moves, the greater this property, that is, its mobility.

An example of mobility; a tennis player will have greater mobility than a person who has never trained, and this will help him get to the balls.

4. Inertia

Inertia, another of the general properties of matter, is a physical property of it; applied to a body, implies that it remains at rest or moves at a speed that is constant and rectilinear . It is a passive property of matter.

To illustrate an example of inertia, let’s imagine riding in a car that is going at a certain speed. The car accelerates sharply; the people inside, as well as we, will “hook” into the seats of the vehicle, due to the inertia, which makes the body try to maintain the original speed of the people.

If, on the other hand, the car brakes sharply, people inside the vehicle will move forward (this is why the seat belt is essential for road safety).

5. Porosity

The porosity is that property of the bodies that are full of small holes ; this characteristic allows that through bodies in solid state, liquid or gaseous substances can circulate. Thus, bodies or objects that have pores (porosity) are permeable.

An example of an object that has porosity is a strainer (a kitchen utensil), which we use to filter liquids and remove particles that we do not want (or that we want to concentrate).

6. Hardness (impenetrability)

Hardness is that property that some objects have of resisting the penetration of a charge . Another definition of hardness is “the resistance of a body to being scratched”. For example, a diamond is extremely hard, which is why it is very difficult (or impossible) to scratch.

This property of matter is measured from a scale, called the Mohs Scale, which is based on the scratching of one mineral by another. This scale ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being talc (the least hard material), and 10 being diamond (the hardest material).

7. Elasticity

Elasticity is a physical property of matter; it implies that an elastic body is stretched or deformed, due to a force exerted on it. Elastic bodies can exert a force contrary to the force that deforms them ; moreover, they can restore their original shape if the force exerted on them ceases. The SI unit for elasticity is the pascal (Pa).

An example of elasticity is a rubber that stretches; if this force is stopped, the rubber recovers its original state and shape (i.e. elasticity). In other words, elasticity implies that a body recovers its original shape when the force is no longer applied to it.

8. Divisibility

Divisibility implies that a body can be divided into exactly equal parts ; the result of this property is an exact and measurable result.

An example of divisibility can be found in everyday life; imagine that we have to divide a cake into eight equal parts, or a 1L juice to be distributed among 5 people. Divisibility is the property that forms part of these processes.

9. Mass

The last of the general properties of matter is mass; mass measures the amount of matter that a given substance has (regardless of its location in space). Thus, this property is not influenced by the force of gravity; neither does it depend on the shape of the body or object in question.

In physics, we understand the mass of a body as the “resistance it offers to change its resting condition,” or the constant speed at which it moves. Its unit in the SI is the kilogram, expressed as Kg.

To illustrate this property, imagine having to push a shopping truck; we will have to push harder if this truck is full than if it is empty.

Bibliographic references:

  • Burbano S., Burbano E. and Gracia, C. (2004). General Physics. Editorial Tebar.
  • Gettys, Keller, Skove. (1991). Classical and Modern Physics. McGraw-Hill Publishing House.