Granite is classified according to the QAPF diagram for coarse grained plutonic rocks and is named according to the percentage of quartz, alkali feldspar (orthoclase, sanidine, or microcline) and plagioclase feldspar on the A-Q-P half of the diagram. True granite (according to modern petrologic convention) contains both plagioclase and alkali feldspars. When a granitoid is devoid or nearly devoid of plagioclase, the rock is referred to as alkali feldspar granite. When a granitoid contains less than 10% orthoclase, it is called tonalite; pyroxene and amphibole are common in tonalite. A granite containing both muscovite and biotite micas is called a binary or two-mica granite. Two-mica granites are typically high in potassium and low in plagioclase, and are usually S-type granites or A-type granites.
Granite has a felsic composition and is more common in recent geologic time in contrast to Earth’s ultramafic ancient igneous history. Felsic rocks are less dense than mafic and ultramafic rocks, and thus they tend to escape subduction, whereas basaltic or gabbroic rocks tend to sink into the mantle beneath the granitic rocks of the continental cratons. Therefore, granitic rocks form the basement of all land continents.
Granitoids have crystallized from magmas that have compositions at or near a eutectic point (or a temperature minimum on a cotectic curve). Magmas will evolve to the eutectic because of igneous differentiation, or because they represent low degrees of partial melting. Fractional crystallisation serves to reduce a melt in iron, magnesium, titanium, calcium and sodium, and enrich the melt in potassium and silicon – alkali feldspar (rich in potassium) and quartz (SiO2), are two of the defining constituents of granite.
This process operates regardless of the origin of the parental magma to the granite, and regardless of its chemistry. However, the composition and origin of the magma that differentiates into granite leaves certain geochemical and mineral evidence as to what the granite’s parental rock was. The final mineralogy, texture and chemical composition of a granite is often distinctive as to its origin. For instance, a granite that is formed from melted sediments may have more alkali feldspar, whereas a granite derived from melted basalt may be richer in plagioclase feldspar. It is on this basis that the modern “alphabet” classification schemes are based. Granite has a slow cooling process which forms larger crystals.
Granites can be predominantly white, pink, or gray in color, depending on their mineralogy. The word “granite” comes from the Latin granum, a grain, in reference to the coarse-grained structure of such a holocrystalline rock. Strictly speaking, granite is an igneous rock with between 20% and 60% quartz by volume, and at least 35% of the total feldspar consisting of alkali feldspar, although commonly the term “granite” is used to refer to a wider range of coarse grained igneous rocks containing quartz and feldspar.
The term “granitic” means granite-like and is applied to granite and a group of intrusive igneous rocks with similar textures and slight variations in composition and origin. These rocks mainly consist of feldspar, quartz, mica, and amphibole minerals, which form an interlocking, somewhat equigranular matrix of feldspar and quartz with scattered darker biotite mica and amphibole (often hornblende) peppering the lighter color minerals. Occasionally some individual crystals (phenocrysts) are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic texture is known as a granite porphyry. Granitoid is a general, descriptive field term for lighter-colored, coarse-grained igneous rocks. Petrographic examination is required for identification of specific types of granitoids. The extrusive igneous rock equivalent of granite is rhyolite.
Granite is nearly always massive (lacking any internal structures), hard and tough, and therefore it has gained widespread use throughout human history as a construction stone. The average density of granite is between 2.65 and 2.75 g/cm3 (165.4 – 171.7 lb/ft3), its compressive strength usually lies above 200 MPa, and its viscosity near STP is 3–6 • 1019 Pa·s.
The melting temperature of dry granite at ambient pressure is 1215–1260 °C (2219–2300 °F); it is strongly reduced in the presence of water, down to 650 °C at a few kBar pressure.
Granite has poor primary permeability overall, but strong secondary permeability through cracks and fractures if present.