Chemistry - What is the intuition behind 'mol' as a unit 'symbol'

Solution 1:

The symbol mol is due to Ostwald who was a very influential and respected physical chemist more than a century ago. In German, "mole" is "Mol". It is a shortform of Molekül.

I believe the Internet Archive has an English translation of his historically famous book of 19th century. This is where I recall reading this. The original reference is W. Ostwald Hand- und Hilfsbuch zur Ausführung physikochemischer Messungen. This book is available on Google Books (pg 278). A footnote appears there:

Um nicht stets den schleppenden Ausdruck Gramm -Molekulargewicht brauchen zu müssen, werde ich diese Größe in der Folge kurzweg Mol nennen, und erlaube mir, diesen Vorschlag zur allgemeinen Annahme zu empfehlen. Man schreibt ohnedies diese Größe häufig Mol., und braucht daher nur den Punkt fortzulassen.

In order not to always have to use the sluggish expression gram - molecular weight, I will simply call this quantity Mol in the following, and allow me to recommend this proposal for general acceptance. Anyway, this quantity is often written as Mol., so you only have to omit the point.

Translated via ( with some manual changes.

Solution 2:

The mole was promoted to the status of "unit" in 1971

The 14th Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures (CGPM),

considering the advice of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and of the International Organization for Standardization, concerning the need to define a unit of amount of substance,


  1. The mole is the amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 0.012 kilogram of carbon 12; its symbol is "mol".
  2. When the mole is used, the elementary entities must be specified and may be atoms, molecules, ions, electrons, other particles, or specified groups of such particles.
  3. The mole is a base unit of the Système International d'Unités.

It had been in use before that for quite some time, and I guess nobody wanted to change the symbol. Think about the ensuing confusion if you made up a new unit symbol today, that means exactly the same thing as the old one.