Inert Matter Meaning & Definition

We explain to you what is inert matter, what are its characteristics, Meaning, Definition, and what is living matter. Your relationship with living things and examples.

What is the inert matter?

When we talk about the inert matter, we refer to all the bodies and substances that are not part of a living organism, that is, that are not inserted in any life cycle: to be born, grow, reproduce and die. In that sense, the inert matter is opposed to living matter or living beings.

The world is composed of living beings and inanimate things, in various mechanisms of interaction. While the former has voluntary movement and requires an internal balance to preserve their energy and continue to exist, the inert matter is subject only to elementary physical forces and transformation processes (biological or not), without any type of intervention of will, of vital necessity, or similar.

Inert matter is called that because it has no movement, no will, which demonstrates a passive existence in the universe, compared to the active life.


Inert matter - glass
Inert matter is part of the backdrop on which life takes place.

Inert matter can be very diverse, since it is made up of all the elements and substances of the universe, as long as they are not configuring any structure of a living being. It is about things and substances whose existence is part of the backdrop on which life takes place. Even decomposed organic matter can be considered the inert matter, once the life that animated it has been completely extinguished.

Living matter and inert matter

Inert matter - living matter
A fossil is considered inert matter since it has long been dead.

The boundaries between living and inert matter can be difficult to draw, although in day-to-day practice the difference between them is very clear. If we consider that our bodies are manufactured from the same atoms as a rock or that a piece of metal, only organized in a radically different way, it turns out that the difference between inert and living matter is a matter of perspective. For example, a fossil is considered inert matter because it has been dead for a long time, even though it was once a living matter.

It is easier to differentiate the living from the inert on a daily basis, taking into account the behavior of things (in fact, if it has behavior, it is alive). But on the strictly physical or chemical level, it is much harder to clarify. This is due to a certain mystery that still accompanies our considerations of life. For example, if we consider a body of a living human being and another body of a newly-deceased human being. How do they differ from this perspective, if they are composed of the same atoms organized in an almost identical way?


Inert matter - water
Living beings cannot live without water, but this is far from being a living being.

Living beings are directly linked in different ways, such as:

  • Nutrition. Although living beings are composed of organic matter, we must also consume certain inert matter, that is, specific elements that allow us to maintain homeostasis, that is, biochemical balance. For example, living beings cannot live without water, but this is not a living being.
  • Biochemical Synthesis Living organisms not only absorb inert matter to nourish themselves, but they change the configuration of this matter through their metabolic processes. Thus, organisms can build organic molecules from scattered elements (as plants do with photosynthesis ), altering the constitution of inert matter around them.
  • Decomposition. Life, however, always ends and the organic molecules that made up the body of living beings are broken down by the action of other organisms and natural elements, becoming more basic substances and eventually becoming inert matter.

Examples of inert matter

Some common examples are very abundant in our daily lives. Stones, metals, concrete, plastic, oil, ceramics, glass, paper, all are forms of inert matter. So are the objects we manufacture with them: statues, pipes, buildings, toys, polyesters, cups, plates, glasses, mirrors, books, and a huge etcetera.

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