Electronegativity and Bond Type


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Two flow charts and table are shown. The first flow chart is labeled, “Electronegativity difference between bonding atoms.” Below this label are three rounded text bubbles, connected by a downward-facing arrow, labeled, “Zero,” “Intermediate,” and “Large,” respectively. The second flow chart is labeled, “Bond type.” Below this label are three rounded text bubbles, connected by a downward-facing arrow, labeled, “Pure covalent,” “Polar covalent,” and “Ionic,” respectively. A double ended arrow is written vertically to the right of the flow charts and labeled, “Covalent character decreases; ionic character increases.” The table is made up of two columns and four rows. The header line is labeled “Bond type” and “Electronegativity difference.” The left column contains the phrases “Pure covalent,” “Polar covalent,” and “Ionic,” while the right column contains the values “less than 0.4,” “between 0.4 and 1.8,” and “greater than 1.8.”
Figure 1. As the electronegativity difference increases between two atoms, the bond becomes more ionic. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

Electronegativity and Bond Type (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

The absolute value of the difference in electronegativity (ΔEN) of two bonded atoms provides a rough measure of the polarity to be expected in the bond and, thus, the bond type. When the difference is very small or zero, the bond is covalent and nonpolar. When it is large, the bond is polar covalent or ionic. The absolute values of the electronegativity differences between the atoms in the bonds H–H, H–Cl, and Na–Cl are 0 (nonpolar), 0.9 (polar covalent), and 2.1 (ionic), respectively. The degree to which electrons are shared between atoms varies from completely equal (pure covalent bonding) to not at all (ionic bonding). Figure 1 shows the relationship between electronegativity difference and bond type.

A rough approximation of the electronegativity differences associated with covalent, polar covalent, and ionic bonds is shown in Figure 1. This table is just a general guide, however, with many exceptions. For example, the H and F atoms in HF have an electronegativity difference of 1.9, and the N and H atoms in NH3 a difference of 0.9, yet both of these compounds form bonds that are considered polar covalent. Likewise, the Na and Cl atoms in NaCl have an electronegativity difference of 2.1, and the Mn and I atoms in MnI2 have a difference of 1.0, yet both of these substances form ionic compounds.

The best guide to the covalent or ionic character of a bond is to consider the types of atoms involved and their relative positions in the periodic table. Bonds between two nonmetals are generally covalent; bonding between a metal and a nonmetal is often ionic.

Some compounds contain both covalent and ionic bonds. The atoms in polyatomic ions, such as OH, NO3,NO3−, and NH4+ are held together by polar covalent bonds. However, these polyatomic ions form ionic compounds by combining with ions of opposite charge. For example, potassium nitrate, KNO3, contains the K+ cation and the polyatomic NO3 anion. Thus, bonding in potassium nitrate is ionic, resulting from the electrostatic attraction between the ions K+ and NO3 as well as covalent between the nitrogen and oxygen atoms in NO3.

Related Topic: Formation of Covalent Bonds


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e


Related External Link:

Biological imaging of chemical bonds by stimulated Raman scattering microscopy

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