Difference Between Phosphorus and Phosphate

Main Difference – Phosphorous vs Phosphate

Phosphates are derivatives of phosphorous. Phosphorous cannot be found in the gaseous state. Therefore, phosphorous is found only in the earth’s crust. Phosphate is an anion composed of phosphorous (P) and oxygen (O) atoms. The main difference between phosphorous and phosphate is that phosphorous is an element whereas phosphate is an anion.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Phosphorous
      – Physical and Chemical Properties, Uses
2. What is Phosphate
      – Physical and Chemical Properties, Uses
3. What is the difference between Phosphorous and Phosphate
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms: Anion, Aqueous Phosphates, Chemical Formula, Electron Configuration, Red Phosphorous, Phosphate, Phosphoric Acid, Phosphorous, White PhosphorousDifference Between Phosphorous and Phosphate - Comparison Summary

What is Phosphorous

Phosphorous is an element which is in the p-block of the periodic table. Phosphorous is a nonmetal and is solid at room temperature. The atomic number of phosphorous is 15. Therefore, the electron configuration of phosphorous is [Ne]3s2sp3.

Phosphorous is mainly found in two forms as white phosphorous and red phosphorous. White phosphorous has P4 units which are tetrahedral structures and are very reactive. Red phosphorous is a polymeric structure. One unit of red phosphorous is similar to the tetrahedral structure of white phosphorous.

Difference Between Phosphorous and Phosphate

Figure 1: Red Phosphorous Powder

Phosphorous is essential to all living things. It is a major component of DNA and RNA. It is also used in the energy transfer mechanisms inside the body in the form of ATP. Apart from that, white phosphorous and red phosphorous are used in industrial needs such as the side coating of the matchboxes, formation of metal alloys, etc.

What is Phosphate

Phosphate is an anion composed of phosphorous (P) and oxygen (O) atoms. The chemical formula of phosphate is given as PO43-. The molecular geometry of phosphate is tetrahedral. The phosphorous atom is centered by four oxygen atoms. The phosphate anion bears three negative charges. When these charges are replaced by protons (H+), the molecule is called phosphoric acid.

Main Difference - Phosphorous vs Phosphate

Figure 2: Phosphate

Many phosphate compounds are not soluble in water. But phosphates of alkali metals are water soluble due to the high reactivity of the metal atom. However, aqueous phosphates are found in three major forms as PO43-, HPO42- and H2PO4.

Phosphates are found mainly as inorganic phosphates. These are phosphate containing inorganic molecules. Phosphates are the naturally found form of the phosphorous element. These phosphates are found as rocks or ores.

Phosphates are largely used to support plant growth. Therefore phosphates are used as fertilizers. These fertilizers are known as “phosphate fertilizers”. Phosphates are sometimes used in the production of special glasses.

Difference Between Phosphorous and Phosphate


Phosphorous: Phosphorous is an element.

Phosphate: Phosphate is an anion composed of phosphorous (P) and oxygen (O) atoms.


Phosphorous: Phosphorous is composed only of phosphorous atoms.

Phosphate: Phosphate is composed of phosphorous and oxygen atoms.

Different Types

Phosphorous: Phosphorous can be found as white phosphorous, red phosphorous and black phosphorous.

Phosphate: Phosphates can be found as phosphoric acid or phosphoric salt of other elements.

Molar Mass

Phosphorous: The molar mass of phosphorous element is about 30 g/mol.

Phosphate: The molar mass of phosphate anion is about 95 g/mol.


Phosphorous is an essential element for all living things. But phosphorous is not found as a pure element in nature. It is found as a component of other minerals. Phosphate is an anion made of phosphorous and oxygen atoms.  The main difference between phosphorous and phosphates is that phosphorous is an element whereas phosphate is an anion.


1.” WHAT ARE PHOSPHATES.” PhosphateFacts. N.p., n.d. Web.  26 June 2017. 
2.”Phosphorus – Element information, properties and uses | Periodic Table.” Royal Society of Chemistry – Advancing excellence in the chemical sciences. N.p., n.d. Web.  26 June 2017. 
3.”It’s Elemental.” It’s Elemental – The Element Phosphorus. N.p., n.d. Web.  26 June 2017. 

Image Courtesy:

1.”” By Hi-Res Images ofChemical Elements – via
2. “Phosphate-group” (Public Domain) via

About the Author: Madhusha

Madhusha is a BSc (Hons) graduate in the field of Biological Sciences and is currently pursuing for her Masters in Industrial and Environmental Chemistry. Her interest areas for writing and research include Biochemistry and Environmental Chemistry.

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