In chemistry, the term transition metal (or transition element) has three possible meanings:
The IUPAC definition defines a transition metal as "an element whose atom has a partially filled d sub-shell, or which can give rise to cations with an incomplete d sub-shell".
Many scientists describe a "transition metal" as any element in the d-block of the periodic table, which includes groups 3 to 12 on the periodic table. In actual practice, the f-block lanthanide and actinide series are also considered transition metals and are called "inner transition metals".
Cotton and Wilkinson expand the brief IUPAC definition (see above) by specifying which elements are included. As well as the elements of groups 4 to 11, they add scandium and yttrium in group 3 which have a partially filled d subshell in the metallic state. These last two elements are included even though they do not (so far) seem to possess the catalytic properties which are so characteristic of the transition metals in general. Lanthanum and actinium in Group 3 are however classified as lanthanides and actinides respectively.
English chemist Charles Bury (1890-1968) first used the word transition in this context in 1921, when he referred to a transition series of elements during the change of an inner layer of electrons (for example n=3 in the 4th row of the periodic table) from a stable group of 8 to one of 18, or from 18 to 32. These elements are now known as the d-block.