Two or more forms of the same element in the same physical state (solid, liquid, or gas) that differ from each other in their physical, and sometimes chemical, properties. The most notable examples of allotropes are found in groups 14, 15, and 16 of the periodic table. Gaseous oxygen, for example, exists in three allotropic forms: monatomic oxygen (O), a diatomic molecule (O2), and in a triatomic molecule known as ozone (O3).

A striking example of differing physical properties among allotropes is the case of carbon. Solid carbon exists in two allotropic forms: diamond and graphite. Diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance and has the highest melting point (more than 6,335°F [3,502°C]) of any element. In contrast, graphite is a very soft material, the substance from which the "lead" in lead pencils is made.