Write the smashville247.netical formula for a simple ionic compound. Recognize polyatomic ions in smashville247.netical formulas.

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We have already encountered some smashville247.netical formulas for simple ionic compounds. A smashville247.netical formula is a concise list of the elements in a compound and the ratios of these elements. To better understand what a smashville247.netical formula means, we must consider how an ionic compound is constructed from its ions.

Ionic compounds exist as alternating positive and negative ions in regular, three-dimensional arrays called crystals (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). As you can see, there are no individual NaCl “particles” in the array; instead, there is a continuous lattice of alternating sodium and chloride ions. However, we can use the ratio of sodium ions to chloride ions, expressed in the lowest possible whole numbers, as a way of describing the compound. In the case of sodium chloride, the ratio of sodium ions to chloride ions, expressed in lowest whole numbers, is 1:1, so we use NaCl (one Na symbol and one Cl symbol) to represent the compound. Thus, NaCl is the smashville247.netical formula for sodium chloride, which is a concise way of describing the relative number of different ions in the compound. A macroscopic sample is composed of myriads of NaCl pairs; each pair called a formula unit. Although it is convenient to think that NaCl crystals are composed of individual NaCl units, Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) shows that no single ion is exclusively associated with any other single ion. Each ion is surrounded by ions of opposite charge.


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Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) A Sodium Chloride Crystal. A crystal contains a three-dimensional array of alternating positive and negative ions. The precise pattern depends on the compound. A crystal of sodium chloride, shown here, is a collection of alternating sodium and chlorine ions.


The formula for an ionic compound follows several conventions. First, the cation is written before the anion. Because most metals form cations and most nonmetals form anions, formulas typically list the metal first and then the nonmetal. Second, charges are not written in a formula. Remember that in an ionic compound, the component species are ions, not neutral atoms, even though the formula does not contain charges. Finally, the proper formula for an ionic compound always obeys the following rule: the total positive charge must equal the total negative charge. To determine the proper formula of any combination of ions, determine how many of each ion is needed to balance the total positive and negative charges in the compound.

This rule is ultimately based on the fact that matter is, overall, electrically neutral.


By convention, assume that there is only one atom if a subscript is not present. We do not use 1 as a subscript.


If we look at the ionic compound consisting of lithium ions and bromide ions, we see that the lithium ion has a 1+ charge and the bromide ion has a 1− charge. Only one ion of each is needed to balance these charges. The formula for lithium bromide is LiBr.

When an ionic compound is formed from magnesium and oxygen, the magnesium ion has a 2+ charge, and the oxygen atom has a 2− charge. Although both of these ions have higher charges than the ions in lithium bromide, they still balance each other in a one-to-one ratio. Therefore, the proper formula for this ionic compound is MgO.

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Now consider the ionic compound formed by magnesium and chlorine. A magnesium ion has a 2+ charge, while a chlorine ion has a 1− charge:

Mg2+ Cl−

Combining one ion of each does not completely balance the positive and negative charges. The easiest way to balance these charges is to assume the presence of two chloride ions for each magnesium ion:

Mg2+ Cl− Cl−

Now the positive and negative charges are balanced. We could write the smashville247.netical formula for this ionic compound as MgClCl, but the convention is to use a numerical subscript when there is more than one ion of a given type—MgCl2. This smashville247.netical formula says that there are one magnesium ion and two chloride ions in this formula. (Do not read the “Cl2” part of the formula as a molecule of the diatomic elemental chlorine. Chlorine does not exist as a diatomic element in this compound. Rather, it exists as two individual chloride ions.) By convention, the lowest whole number ratio is used in the formulas of ionic compounds. The formula Mg2Cl4has balanced charges with the ions in a 1:2 ratio, but is not correct because it isnot the lowest whole number ratio.



Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Some Polyatomic Ions Name Formula
ammonium ion NH4+
acetate ion C2H3O2− (also written CH3CO2−)
carbonate ion CO32−
hydrogen carbonate ion (bicarbonate ion) HCO3−
cyanide ion CN−
hydroxide ion OH−
nitrate ion NO3−
nitrite ion NO2−
phosphate ion PO43−
hydrogen phosphate ion HPO42−
dihydrogen phosphate ion H2PO4−
sulfate ion SO42−
hydrogen sulfate ion (bisulfate ion) HSO4−
sulfite ion SO32−





Looking Closer: Blood and Seawater

Science has long recognized that blood and seawater have similar compositions. After all, both liquids have ionic compounds dissolved in them. The similarity may be more than mere coincidence; many scientists think that the first forms of life on Earth arose in the oceans. A closer look, however, shows that blood and seawater are quite different. A 0.9% solution of sodium chloride approximates the salt concentration found in blood. In contrast, seawater is principally a 3% sodium chloride solution, over three times the concentration in blood. Here is a comparison of the amounts of ions in blood and seawater:


IonPercent in SeawaterPercent in Blood
Na+ 2.36 0.322
Cl− 1.94 0.366
Mg2+ 0.13 0.002
SO42− 0.09
K+ 0.04 0.016
Ca2+ 0.04 0.0096
HCO3− 0.002 0.165
HPO42−, H2PO4− 0.01




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