Water can take many forms. At low temperatures (below (0^ exto extC)), it is a solid. When at "normal" temperatures (between (0^ exto extC) and (100^ exto extC)), it is a liquid. While at temperatures above (100^ exto extC), water is a gas (steam). The state thatwater is in depends upon the temperature. Each state has its own unique set of physical properties. Matter typically exists in one of three states: solid, liquid, or gas.

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Plasma: A Fourth State of Matter

Technically speaking, a fourth state of matter called plasma exists, but it does not naturally occur on earth, so we will omit it from our study here.

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If the particles of a substance have enough energy to partially overcome intermolecular interactions, then the particles can move about each other while remaining in contact. This describes the liquid state. In a liquid, the particles are still in close contact, so liquids have a definite volume. However, because the particles can move about each other rather freely, a liquid has no definite shape and takes a shape dictated by its container.

Liquids have the following characteristics:

No definite shape (takes the shape of its container). Has definite volume. Particles are free to move over each other, but are still attracted to each other.

A familiar liquid is mercury metal. Mercury is an anomaly. It is the only metal we know of that is liquid at room temperature. Mercury also has an ability to stick to itself (surface tension)—a property that all liquids exhibit. Mercury has a relatively high surface tension, which makes it very unique. Here you see mercury in its common liquid form.

Example (PageIndex1)

What state or states of matter does each statement, describe?

This state has a definite volume, but no definite shape. This state has no definite volume. This state allows the individual particles to move about while remaining in contact.

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This statement describes the liquid state. This statement describes the gas state. This statement describes the liquid state.

Exercise (PageIndex1)