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The Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Compounds

Matthew Nesbitt
By Matthew Nesbitt, Writer and researcher. October 18, 2023
The Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Compounds

Understanding the difference between organic and inorganic compounds is a fundamental principle in chemistry. Essentially, the difference between inorganic vs. organic matter is to do with the presence of carbon. Although this is important on a molecular level, it is a topic which has a great impact on ecology. This is because both organic and inorganic compounds have their specific functions in nature. One is characteristic of living beings and the other of non-living material.

At thedailyECO, we discover the difference between organic and inorganic compounds. In doing so, we can have a better idea of how living and non-living matter interacts with each other. We also look at examples of both in nature.

You may also be interested in: Differences Between Forest and Jungle


  1. What is an organic compound?
  2. Examples of organic matter
  3. What is inorganic matter
  4. Examples of inorganic matter

What is an organic compound?

Organic matter is that matter that is composed of organic compounds. These are compounds which contain carbon (C), although they almost always also contain hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). The presence of carbon is the defining characteristic of organic material. This does not mean that organic matter cannot occasionally include elements such as sulfur (S) or phosphorus (P), but they are certainly not its majority composition.

The bonds of organic compounds are almost always covalent and their structure is large and complex. Carbon is synthesized by living beings.

Examples of organic matter

Within organic matter, we distinguish several main groups that depend on their chemical structure. It is this chemical structure which determines its properties. These are some examples of organic matter according to these groups:

Carbohydrates or sugars

Carbohydrates receive this name because they are composed exclusively of carbon chains in which hydrogen and oxygen atoms (the components of water or H2O) are coupled together. Monosaccharides are simple sugar organic compounds that can be divided into several groups based on the number of carbons they have in their makeup.

For this reason, we can find types of carbohydrates grouped by the number of carbon atoms they contains:

  • Trioses: contain 3 carbon atoms.
  • Tetroses: contain 4 carbon atoms.
  • Pentoses: contain 5 carbon atoms (commonly found in nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA)
  • Hexoses: contain 6 carbon atoms and are some of the most common organic compounds.

Additionally, these chains of carbon can become rings. This is how they are usually found in a solution, something we can find in living beings. The paradigmatic example of a cyclic hexose is glucose, a sugar that is used to store energy.

Some monosaccharides have the ability to join together to form long chains with branches, which are called polysaccharides. Individual glucose units (monosaccharides) are converted into chains of glycogen (polysaccharides) which are stored in our liver and muscles. They serve as a reservoir of quick and easy-to-mobilize energy. Cellulose is also one of these polysaccharides.

Lipids or fats

At least in part of their structure, lipids are organic compounds made up of long carbon chains saturated with hydrogen. A triglyceride is one of the lipids you will likely have heard of. It is made up of three of these chains ending in an acidic group, which joins a glycerin unit (short three-carbon molecule).

Another of the most important organic lipid compounds is cholesterol, an essential element for life. Lipids also function as an energy reservoir since it is more difficult to mobilize than glycogen. They also have an important structural role since they are the main component of all cell membranes. Learn more about cell membranes with our article on the different types of cell organelles.


The basic unit of protein is the amino acid, an organic molecule that in addition to carbon, hydrogen and oxygen also includes nitrogen. Although some more very rare amino acids have been discovered, there are usually around 20 different amino acids in the human body, including lysine (Lys), proline (Pro) or aspartic acid (Asp).

Amino acids can form long chains that fold back on themselves, acquiring helical, lamellar or globular structures. In turn, these can be combined into complex superstructures. The basic role of proteins is structural and functional, i.e. they form the majority of the supporting and enzymatic molecular structures.

Nucleic acids

Nucleic acids include deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and all variants of oxyribonucleic acid (RNA). In addition to nitrogen they include phosphate. The main unit is the (deoxy)ribonucleotide, which like proteins and sugars join together to form long chains.

In nucleic acids, the chains generally adopt a helical or globular structure. They are of vital importance, since they preserve and recover all the information contained in the cell .

Other examples of organic matter

Here we find vitamins, hormones, small hydrocarbons such as methane (CH4) and, in general, a wide variety of molecules that, although they may not be particularly abundant, can play essential roles for life. As we have seen, these are essential elements for life to exist.

Now that you know what the characteristics of organic matter are and its definition with examples, let's find out about inorganic matter and its examples. Before you do, you can understand about the byproducts of some of the organic processes described above with our article on what is organic waste?

The Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Compounds - Examples of organic matter

What is inorganic matter

Inorganic matter is that matter not fundamentally formed by C, H and O, even if they may contain these elements in their composition. The bonds of inorganic compounds are mostly of the ionic or metallic types. Although these elements are also found in living beings, they do so in small proportions and are mainly found outside them in inert materials.

The Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Compounds - What is inorganic matter

Examples of inorganic matter

Inorganic matter is fundamentally classified according to the number of elements that make up the molecule. In this way we can highlight the following as examples of inorganic matter:

Noble gases and metals

Noble gases are found in atomic form since they do not need to combine with other atoms to remain stable. On the other hand, metals can be grouped into networks that include many atoms, but which can all be of the same element. Examples of noble gases are Helium (He) or Argon (Ar). We also find metals such as iron (Fe) or aluminum (Al).

Binary compounds

They are made up of two atoms of different elements. We find binary salts, metal oxides and metal hydrides. For example, sulfur oxide (SO3) is a very polluting element.

Ternary compounds

They are combinations of three elements, such as hydroxides (such as potash or potassium hydroxide, KOH) or strong acids, for example sulfuric acid (H2SO4). Both of these types of inorganic compounds are important corrosive agents.

In chemistry, the term ‘organic’ is very specifically referring to compounds which are composed of carbon. However, it is a term which can often have varying applications in ecology. For example, you can learn more about the difference between organic food and natural food to see only one example.

If you want to read similar articles to The Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Compounds, we recommend you visit our Environment (other) category.

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The Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Compounds