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Graphite is soft enough to form a streak on paper (hence its name, from the Greek verb "γράφειν" which means "to write"), while diamond is the hardest naturally occurring material known.Graphite is a good electrical conductor while diamond has a low electrical conductivity.The electronegativity of carbon is 2.5, significantly higher than the heavier group 14 elements (1.8–1.9), but close to most of the nearby nonmetals as well as some of the second- and third-row transition metals.Carbon's covalent radii are normally taken as 77.2 pm (C–C), 66.7 pm (C=C) and 60.3 pm (C≡C), although these may vary depending on coordination number and what the carbon is bonded to.The largest sources of inorganic carbon are limestones, dolomites and carbon dioxide, but significant quantities occur in organic deposits of coal, peat, oil, and methane clathrates.Carbon forms a vast number of compounds, more than any other element, with almost ten million compounds described to date, The allotropes of carbon include graphite, one of the softest known substances, and diamond, the hardest naturally occurring substance.

Although thermodynamically prone to oxidation, carbon resists oxidation more effectively than elements such as iron and copper that are weaker reducing agents at room temperature.Graphite is much more reactive than diamond at standard conditions, despite being more thermodynamically stable, as its delocalised pi system is much more vulnerable to attack.For example, graphite can be oxidised by hot concentrated nitric acid at standard conditions to mellitic acid, C Carbon sublimes in a carbon arc which has a temperature of about 5,800 K (5,530 °C; 9,980 °F).It bonds readily with other small atoms including other carbon atoms, and is capable of forming multiple stable covalent bonds with suitable, multivalent atoms.Carbon is known to form almost ten million different compounds, a large majority of all chemical compounds.

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Carbon is the sixth element, with a ground-state electron configuration of 1s, of which the four outer electrons are valence electrons.