The atoms in all substances that contain multiple atoms are held together by electrostatic interactions—interactions between electrically charged particles such as protons and electrons. Electrostatic attraction between oppositely charged species (positive and negative) results in a force that causes them to move toward each other, like the attraction between opposite poles of two magnets. In contrast, electrostatic repulsion between two species with the same charge (either both positive or both negative) results in a force that causes them to repel each other, as do the same poles of two magnets. Atoms form smashville247.netical compounds when the attractive electrostatic interactions between them are stronger than the repulsive interactions. Collectively, the attractive interactions between atoms are called smashville247.netical bonds.

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smashville247.netical bonds are generally divided into two fundamentally different types: ionic and covalent. In reality, however, the bonds in most substances are neither purely ionic nor purely covalent, but lie on a spectrum between these extremes. Although purely ionic and purely covalent bonds represent extreme cases that are seldom encountered in any but very simple substances, a brief discussion of these two extremes helps explain why substances with different kinds of smashville247.netical bonds have very different properties. Ionic compounds consist of positively and negatively charged ions held together by strong electrostatic forces, whereas covalent compounds generally consist of molecules, which are groups of atoms in which one or more pairs of electrons are shared between bonded atoms. In a covalent bond, atoms are held together by the electrostatic attraction between the positively charged nuclei of the bonded atoms and the negatively charged electrons they share. This discussion of structures and formulas begins by describing covalent compounds. The energetic factors involved in bond formation are described in more quantitative detail in later.

Ionic compounds consist of ions of opposite charges held together by strong electrostatic forces, whereas pairs of electrons are shared between bonded atoms in covalent compounds.

Covalent Molecules and Compounds

Just as an atom is the simplest unit that has the fundamental smashville247.netical properties of an element, a molecule is the simplest unit that has the fundamental smashville247.netical properties of a covalent compound. Some pure elements exist as covalent molecules. Hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and the halogens occur naturally as the diatomic (“two atoms”) molecules H2, N2, O2, F2, Cl2, Br2, and I2 (part (a) in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Similarly, a few pure elements exist as polyatomic (“many atoms”) molecules, such as elemental phosphorus and sulfur, which occur as P4 and S8 (part (b) in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

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Each covalent compound is represented by a molecular formula, which gives the atomic symbol for each component element, in a prescribed order, accompanied by a subscript indicating the number of atoms of that element in the molecule. The subscript is written only if the number of atoms is greater than 1. For example, water, with two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom per molecule, is written as \(H_2O\). Similarly, carbon dioxide, which contains one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms in each molecule, is written as \(CO_2\).


Because the latter approximates the experimentally determined shape of the water molecule, it is more informative. Similarly, ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4) are often written as planar molecules:

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