What are Organic and Inorganic Substances?
When you hear the word “organic”, you may think of crops or animals raised without pesticides or antibiotics. However, in the sciences, organic means something that is typically associated with living things. Conversely, inorganic means a material that neither comes from nor builds up a living thing.
Organic molecules include important macromolecules for life, like carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, as well as many other substances. Ethanol, a fuel derived from corn, is an organic molecule. So is methane, which is a gas released during decomposition and digestion.
Inorganic molecules can include things like table salt, pure elements, and metals. These substances are often made of materials mined from the earth. Though vital to life, they are not considered organic. Inorganic substances commonly have higher melting and boiling points than organic molecules and some are able to conduct electricity. Inorganic substances usually have ionic bonds rather than covalent.
But how can you tell whether a substance is organic or inorganic if you don’t know where it originally came from? You may have heard that life on Earth is “carbon-based”. This is because all organic substances must contain carbon. Most organic substances also contain bonds between carbon and hydrogen.
It is possible for some inorganic substances to contain carbon. An example of this is the diamond, which is composed of pure carbon. However, carbon-hydrogen bonds are always indicators of an organic substance. Organic substances also usually have covalent bonds rather than ionic.
Christou, Dimistris (photographer). (2016).Precious Diamond Jewelry [photography]. Retrieved from