Silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag (from the Latin argentum, derived from the Proto-Indo-European h₂erǵ: "shiny" or "white") and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of any metal. The metal is found in the Earth's crust in the pure, free elemental form ("native silver"), as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite.
Silver is a relatively soft and extremely ductile and malleable transition metal, though it is slightly less malleable than gold.
Because pure silver is very soft, most silver used for these purposes is alloyed with copper, with fineness of 925/1000, 835/1000, and 800/1000 being common. One drawback is the easy tarnishing of silver in the presence of hydrogen sulfide and its derivatives. Including precious metals such as palladium, platinum, and gold gives resistance to tarnishing but is quite costly; base metals like zinc, cadmium, silicon, and germanium do not totally prevent corrosion and tend to affect the lustre and colour of the alloy. Electrolytically refined pure silver plating is effective at increasing resistance to tarnishing. The usual solutions for restoring the lustre of tarnished silver are dipping baths that reduce the silver sulfide surface to metallic silver, and cleaning off the layer of tarnish with a paste; the latter approach also has the welcome side effect of polishing the silver concurrently. A simple chemical approach to removal of the sulfide tarnish is to bring silver items into contact with aluminium foil whilst immersed in water containing a conducting salt, such as sodium chloride.
Silver has a brilliant white metallic lustre that can take a high polish, and which is so characteristic that the name of the metal itself has become a colour name, hence silver is not a coloured metal. Protected silver has greater optical reflectivity than aluminium.
Silver readily forms alloys with copper and gold, as well as zinc.
The major use of silver besides coinage throughout most of history was in the manufacture of jewellery and other general-use items, and this continues to be a major use today. Examples include table silver for cutlery, for which silver is highly suited due to its antibacterial properties. Western concert flutes are usually plated with or made out of sterling silver; in fact, most silverware is only silver-plated rather than made out of pure silver; the silver is normally put in place by electroplating. Silver-plated glass (as opposed to metal) is used for mirrors, vacuum flasks, and Christmas tree decorations.
Silver has long been valued as a precious metal. Silver metal is used in many bullion coins, sometimes alongside gold: while it is more abundant than gold, it is much less abundant as a native metal. Its purity is typically measured on a per-mille basis; a 94%-pure alloy is described as "0.940 fine". As one of the seven metals of antiquity, silver has had an enduring role in most human cultures.
Other than in currency and as an investment medium (coins and bullion), silver is used in solar panels, water filtration, jewellery, ornaments, high-value tableware and utensils (hence the term "silverware"), in electrical contacts and conductors, in specialized mirrors, window coatings, in catalysis of chemical reactions, as a colorant in stained glass and in specialised confectionery. Its compounds are used in photographic and X-ray film. Dilute solutions of silver nitrate and other silver compounds are used as disinfectants and microbiocides (oligodynamic effect), added to bandages and wound-dressings, catheters, and other medical instruments.