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Clay minerals as a group are largely phyllosilicates, therefore this discussion will be more or less limited to the latter. Silicates are made of SiO4 -4 ionic groups in combination with metallic cations. Oxygen ions are much larger in size than most of the cations, so volumetrically oxygen makes up the bulk of silicates. Silicate minerals, indeed the entire earth's crust, can be visualized as being made of close-packed oxygens with the smaller cations filling the interstices. This is not unrealistic, since oxygen constitutes 94% by volume of the earth's crust.

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