Who did create the notions of acid, base, and salt first?

Many chemists had mentioned these 3 terms before Svante Arrhenius defined them in 1884. For example, Antoine Lavoisier mentioned the notions of acid and base in 17XX; Paracelsus mentioned salt in 15XX; litmus was used for the first time about 1300 AD by Spanish alchemist Arnaldus de Villa Nova; related chemicals were used in ancient time.

So, who are the first to define the notions of acid, base, and salt respectively?


1 Answer 1


We have to go back at least to Renessaince alchemy; see Paracelsus' chemistry with the tria prima:

the idea of triparite alternatives to explain the nature of medicine, taking the place of a combustible element (sulphur) a fluid and changeable element (mercury) and a solid, permanent element (salt.) The first mention of the mercury, sulphur, salt model was in the Opus paramirum dating to about 1530 Paracelsus believed that the principles sulphur, mercury, and salt contained the poisons contributing to all diseases.

This doctrine evolved slowly into the modern chemical theory of principles.

See William Jensen, The Origin of the term "base”:

The term “base” appears to have been first used in 1717 [“Mémoires sur le nitre,” Mém.Acad.R.Sci. (Paris), 1717] by the French chemist, Louis Lémery (1672-1743), as a synonym for the older Paracelsian term “matrix”. In keeping with 16th-century animism, Paracelsus had postulated that naturally occurring salts grew within the earth as a result of a universal acid or seminal principle having impregnated an earthy matrix or womb. By the early 1730s the newer term had largely replaced the older Paracelsian terminology and was being used by such French chemists as Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau (1700-1782) [“Sur le sal ammoniac,” Mém.Acad.R.Sci. (Paris), 1735].

Its modern meaning and general introduction into the chemical vocabulary, however, is usually attributed to the French chemist, Guillaume-François Rouelle, who used the term in a memoir on salts written in 1754 [“Memoire sur les sels neutres,” Mém.Acad.R.Sci. (Paris), 1754].

In this paper, which was an extension of an earlier memoir on the same subject written in 1744 [“Memoire sur les sels neutres,” Mém.Acad.R.Sci. (Paris), 1744], Rouelle pointed out that the number of known salts had increased significantly during the 17th- and early 18th-centuries, due not only to the preparation of new salts, but also to an increasing ability to distinguish between sodium and potassium compounds, and to a generalization of the concept so as to include many substances, such as the alums and vitriols (i.e., sulfates), that had been previously excluded.

See also the affinity table: “Table of the different relationships observed between different substances” presented by Etienne François Geoffroy to the Paris Academy in 1718.


  • $\begingroup$ Paracelsus may bring out the notion of salt, but how about acid and base? Jabir mentioned the notion of acid in the late 8th century. $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2016 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ As I see it, this goes into a completely different direction (even if it also is a trichotomy and includes "salt"). $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Mar 2, 2016 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Mauro ALLEGRANZA, Does your new edition relate to Paracelsus' tria prima? $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2016 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Mauro ALLEGRANZA, Do you think that the notions of acid and base appeared earlier than that of salt? $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2016 at 13:54

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