Sub-nanometre sized metal clusters, with dimensions between metal atoms and nanoparticles, have attracted more and more attention due to their unique electronic structures and the subsequent unusual physical and chemical properties. However, the tiny size of the metal clusters brings the difficulty of their synthesis compared to the easier preparation of large nanoparticles. Up to now various synthetic techniques and routes have been successfully applied to the preparation of sub-nanometre clusters. Among the metals, gold clusters, especially the alkanethiolate monolayer protected clusters (MPCs), have been extensively investigated during the past decades. In recent years, silver and copper nanoclusters have also attracted enormous interest mainly due to their excellent photoluminescent properties. Meanwhile, more structural characteristics, particular optical, catalytic, electronic and magnetic properties and the related technical applications of the metal nanoclusters have been discovered in recent years. In this critical review, recent advances in sub-nanometre sized metal clusters (Au, Ag, Cu, etc.) including the synthetic techniques, structural characterizations, novel physical, chemical and optical properties and their potential applications are discussed in detail. We finally give a brief outlook on the future development of metal nanoclusters from the viewpoint of controlled synthesis and their potential applications.
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