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Because an ionic compound is not made up of single, discrete molecules, it may not be properly symbolized using a molecular formula. Instead, ionic compounds must be symbolized by a formula indicating the relative numbers of its constituent ions. For compounds containing only monatomic ions (such as NaCl) and for many compounds containing polyatomic ions (such as CaSO 4 ), these formulas are just the empirical formulas introduced earlier in this chapter. However, the formulas for some ionic compounds containing polyatomic ions are not empirical formulas. For example, the ionic compound sodium oxalate is comprised of Na + and C 2 O 4 2− ions combined in a 2:1 ratio, and its formula is written as Na 2 C 2 O 4 . The subscripts in this formula are not the smallest-possible whole numbers, as each can be divided by 2 to yield the empirical formula, NaCO 2 . This is not the accepted formula for sodium oxalate, however, as it does not accurately represent the compound’s polyatomic anion, C 2 O 4 2− .

Molecular compounds

Many compounds do not contain ions but instead consist solely of discrete, neutral molecules. These molecular compounds (covalent compounds) result when atoms share, rather than transfer (gain or lose), electrons. Covalent bonding is an important and extensive concept in chemistry, and it will be treated in considerable detail in a later chapter of this text. We can often identify molecular compounds on the basis of their physical properties. Under normal conditions, molecular compounds often exist as gases, low-boiling liquids, and low-melting solids, although many important exceptions exist.

Whereas ionic compounds are usually formed when a metal and a nonmetal combine, covalent compounds are usually formed by a combination of nonmetals. Thus, the periodic table can help us recognize many of the compounds that are covalent. While we can use the positions of a compound’s elements in the periodic table to predict whether it is ionic or covalent at this point in our study of chemistry, you should be aware that this is a very simplistic approach that does not account for a number of interesting exceptions. Shades of gray exist between ionic and molecular compounds, and you’ll learn more about those later.

Predicting the type of bonding in compounds

Predict whether the following compounds are ionic or molecular:

(a) KI, the compound used as a source of iodine in table salt

(b) H 2 O 2 , the bleach and disinfectant hydrogen peroxide

(c) CHCl 3 , the anesthetic chloroform

(d) Li 2 CO 3 , a source of lithium in antidepressants


(a) Potassium (group 1) is a metal, and iodine (group 17) is a nonmetal; KI is predicted to be ionic.

(b) Hydrogen (group 1) is a nonmetal, and oxygen (group 16) is a nonmetal; H 2 O 2 is predicted to be molecular.

(c) Carbon (group 14) is a nonmetal, hydrogen (group 1) is a nonmetal, and chlorine (group 17) is a nonmetal; CHCl 3 is predicted to be molecular.

(d) Lithium (group 1) is a metal, and carbonate is a polyatomic ion; Li 2 CO 3 is predicted to be ionic.

Check your learning

Using the periodic table, predict whether the following compounds are ionic or covalent:

(a) SO 2

(b) CaF 2

(c) N 2 H 4

(d) Al 2 (SO 4 ) 3


(a) molecular; (b) ionic; (c) molecular; (d) ionic

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Key concepts and summary

Metals (particularly those in groups 1 and 2) tend to lose the number of electrons that would leave them with the same number of electrons as in the preceding noble gas in the periodic table. By this means, a positively charged ion is formed. Similarly, nonmetals (especially those in groups 16 and 17, and, to a lesser extent, those in Group 15) can gain the number of electrons needed to provide atoms with the same number of electrons as in the next noble gas in the periodic table. Thus, nonmetals tend to form negative ions. Positively charged ions are called cations, and negatively charged ions are called anions. Ions can be either monatomic (containing only one atom) or polyatomic (containing more than one atom).

Compounds that contain ions are called ionic compounds. Ionic compounds generally form from metals and nonmetals. Compounds that do not contain ions, but instead consist of atoms bonded tightly together in molecules (uncharged groups of atoms that behave as a single unit), are called covalent compounds. Covalent compounds usually form from two nonmetals.

Chemistry end of chapter exercises

Using the periodic table, predict whether the following chlorides are ionic or covalent: KCl, NCl 3 , ICl, MgCl 2 , PCl 5 , and CCl 4 .

Ionic: KCl, MgCl 2 ; Covalent: NCl 3 , ICl, PCl 5 , CCl 4

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Using the periodic table, predict whether the following chlorides are ionic or covalent: SiCl 4 , PCl 3 , CaCl 2 , CsCl, CuCl 2 , and CrCl 3 .

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For each of the following compounds, state whether it is ionic or covalent. If it is ionic, write the symbols for the ions involved:

(a) NF 3

(b) BaO,

(c) (NH 4 ) 2 CO 3

(d) Sr(H 2 PO 4 ) 2

(e) IBr

(f) Na 2 O

(a) covalent; (b) ionic, Ba 2+ , O 2− ; (c) ionic, NH 4 + , CO 3 2− ; (d) ionic, Sr 2+ , H 2 PO 4 ; (e) covalent; (f) ionic, Na + , O 2−

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For each of the following compounds, state whether it is ionic or covalent, and if it is ionic, write the symbols for the ions involved:

(a) KClO 4

(b) MgC 2 H 3 O 2

(c) H 2 S

(d) Ag 2 S

(e) N 2 Cl 4

(f) Co(NO 3 ) 2

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For each of the following pairs of ions, write the symbol for the formula of the compound they will form:

(a) Ca 2+ , S 2−

(b) NH 4 + , SO 4 2−

(c) Al 3+ , Br

(d) Na + , HPO 4 2−

(e) Mg 2+ , PO 4 3−

(a) CaS; (b) (NH 4 ) 2 SO 4 ; (c) AlBr 3 ; (d) Na 2 HPO 4 ; (e) Mg 3 (PO 4 ) 2

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For each of the following pairs of ions, write the symbol for the formula of the compound they will form:

(a) K + , O 2−

(b) NH 4 + , PO 4 3−

(c) Al 3+ , O 2−

(d) Na + , CO 3 2−

(e) Ba 2+ , PO 4 3−

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Questions & Answers

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Practice Key Terms 8

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Source:  OpenStax, Ut austin - principles of chemistry. OpenStax CNX. Mar 31, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11830/1.13
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