The different forms or allotropes of carbon (see below) include the hardest naturally occurring substance, diamond, and also one of the softest known substances, graphite. Moreover, it has an affinity for bonding with other small atoms, including other carbon atoms, and is capable of forming multiple stable covalent bonds with such atoms. As a result, carbon is known to form almost ten million different compounds; the large majority of all chemical compounds. Carbon also has the highest sublimation point of all elements. At atmospheric pressure it has no melting point as its triple point is at 10.8 ± 0.2 MPa and 4,600 ± 300 K (~4,330 °C or 7,820 °F), so it sublimes at about 3,900 K.
Carbon sublimes in a carbon arc which has a temperature of about 5,800 K (5,530 °C; 9,980 °F). Thus, irrespective of its allotropic form, carbon remains solid at higher temperatures than the highest melting point metals such as tungsten or rhenium. 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.
Carbon compounds form the basis of all known life on Earth, and the carbon-nitrogen cycle provides some of the energy produced by the Sun and other stars. Although it forms an extraordinary variety of compounds, most forms of carbon are comparatively unreactive under normal conditions. At standard temperature and pressure, it resists all but the strongest oxidizers. It does not react with sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, chlorine or any alkalis. At elevated temperatures carbon reacts with oxygen to form carbon oxides, and will reduce such metal oxides as iron oxide to the metal.