Electron-pair Geometry versus Molecular Structure

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A Lewis structure shows a carbon atom single bonded to four hydrogen atoms. This structure uses wedges and dashes to give it a three dimensional appearance.
The molecular structure of the methane molecule, CH4, is shown with a tetrahedral arrangement of the hydrogen atoms. VSEPR structures like this one are often drawn using the wedge and dash notation, in which solid lines represent bonds in the plane of the page, solid wedges represent bonds coming up out of the plane, and dashed lines represent bonds going down into the plane. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

Electron-pair Geometry versus Molecular Structure (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

It is important to note that electron-pair geometry around a central atom is not the same thing as its molecular structure. The electron-pair geometries describe all regions where electrons are located, bonds as well as lone pairs. Molecular structure describes the location of the atoms, not the electrons.

A table with four rows and six columns is shown. The header column contains the phrases, “Number of regions,” “Spatial arrangement,” “Wedge/dash Notation,” and “Electron region Geometry.” The first row reads: “Two regions of high electron density ( bonds and/or unshared pairs )”, “Three regions of high electron density ( bonds and/or unshared pairs ),” “Four regions of high electron density ( bonds and/or unshared pairs ),” “Five regions of high electron density ( bonds and/or unshared pairs ),” and “Six regions of high electron density ( bonds and/or unshared pairs ).” The second row shows diagrams of orbitals. The first image shows two oval-shaped orbs with an arrow indicating an angle of 180 degrees. The second image shows three oval-shaped orbs with an arrow indicating an angle of 120 degrees. The third image shows four oval-shaped orbs with an arrow indicating an angle of 109.5 degrees. The fourth image shows five oval-shaped orbs with an arrow indicating an angle of 90 and 120 degrees. The fifth image shows six oval-shaped orbs with an arrow indicating an angle of 90 degrees. The third row contains Lewis structures. The first structure shows a beryllium atom single bonded to two hydrogen atoms. The second structure shows a boron atom single bonded to three hydrogen atoms. The third structure shows a carbon atom single bonded to four hydrogen atoms. The fourth structure shows a phosphorus atom single bonded to five fluorine atoms. The fifth structure shows a sulfur atom single bonded to six fluorine atoms. The fourth row contains the phrases “Linear; 180 degree angle,” Trigonal Planar; all angles 120 degrees,” “Tetrahedral; all angles 109.5 degrees,” “Trigonal bipyramidal; angles of 90 degrees and 120 degrees. An attached atom may be equatorial, ( in the plane of the triangle ), or axial, ( above the plane of the triangle ),” and “Octahedral; 90 degrees or 180 degrees.”
The basic electron-pair geometries predicted by VSEPR theory maximize the space around any region of electron density (bonds or lone pairs). Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

We differentiate between these two situations by naming the geometry that includes all electron pairs the electron-pair geometry. The structure that includes only the placement of the atoms in the molecule is called the molecular structure. The electron-pair geometries will be the same as the molecular structures when there are no lone electron pairs around the central atom, but they will be different when there are lone pairs present on the central atom.

For example, the methane molecule, CH4, which is the major component of natural gas, has four bonding pairs of electrons around the central carbon atom; the electron-pair geometry is tetrahedral, as is the molecular structure. On the other hand, the ammonia molecule, NH3, also has four electron pairs associated with the nitrogen atom, and thus has a tetrahedral electron-pair geometry. One of these regions, however, is a lone pair, which is not included in the molecular structure, and this lone pair influences the shape of the molecule.

Three images are shown and labeled, “a,” “b,” and “c.” Image a shows a nitrogen atom single bonded to three hydrogen atoms. There are four oval-shaped orbs that surround each hydrogen and one facing away from the rest of the molecule. These orbs are located in a tetrahedral arrangement. Image b shows a ball-and-stick model of the nitrogen single bonded to the three hydrogen atoms. Image c is the same as image a, but there are four curved, double headed arrows that circle the molecule and are labeled, “106.8 degrees.”
(a) The electron-pair geometry for the ammonia molecule is tetrahedral with one lone pair and three single bonds. (b) The trigonal pyramidal molecular structure is determined from the electron-pair geometry. (c) The actual bond angles deviate slightly from the idealized angles because the lone pair takes up a larger region of space than do the single bonds, causing the HNH angle to be slightly smaller than 109.5°. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

Small distortions from the ideal angles can result from differences in repulsion between various regions of electron density. VSEPR theory predicts these distortions by establishing an order of repulsions and an order of the amount of space occupied by different kinds of electron pairs. The order of electron-pair repulsions from greatest to least repulsion is:

This order of repulsions determines the amount of space occupied by different regions of electrons. A lone pair of electrons occupies a larger region of space than the electrons in a triple bond; in turn, electrons in a triple bond occupy more space than those in a double bond, and so on. The order of sizes from largest to smallest is:

Consider formaldehyde, H2CO, which is used as a preservative for biological and anatomical specimens. This molecule has regions of high electron density that consist of two single bonds and one double bond. The basic geometry is trigonal planar with 120° bond angles, but we see that the double bond causes slightly larger angles (121°), and the angle between the single bonds is slightly smaller (118°).

A pair of images are shown. The left image shows a carbon atom with three atoms bonded in a triangular arrangement around it. There are two hydrogen atoms bonded on the left side of the carbon and the angle between them is labeled, “118 degrees” and, “Bond angle.” The carbon is also double bonded to an oxygen atom. The double bond is shaded and there is a bracket which labels the bond, “Bond length ( angstrom ), ( center to center ),” and, “1.21 angstrom.” The right image shows a ball-and-stick model of the same elements. The hydrogen atoms are white, the carbon atom is black, and the oxygen atom is red.
Bond distances (lengths) and angles are shown for the formaldehyde molecule, H2CO. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

In the ammonia molecule, the three hydrogen atoms attached to the central nitrogen are not arranged in a flat, trigonal planar molecular structure, but rather in a three-dimensional trigonal pyramid with the nitrogen atom at the apex and the three hydrogen atoms forming the base. The ideal bond angles in a trigonal pyramid are based on the tetrahedral electron pair geometry. Again, there are slight deviations from the ideal because lone pairs occupy larger regions of space than do bonding electrons. The H–N–H bond angles in NH3 are slightly smaller than the 109.5° angle in a regular tetrahedron because the lone pair-bonding pair repulsion is greater than the bonding pair-bonding pair repulsion.

A table is shown that is comprised of six rows and six columns. The header row reads: “Number of Electron Regions,” “Electron region geometries; 0 lone pair,” “1 lone pair,” “2 lone pairs,” “3 lone pairs,” and “4 lone pairs.” The first column contains the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The first space in the second column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on each side. The angle of the bonds is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “180 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Linear.” The second space in the second column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on three sides. The angle between the bonds is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “120 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Trigonal planar.” The third space in the second column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X four times. The angle between the bonds is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “109 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Tetrahedral.” The fourth space in the second column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on five sides. The angle between the bonds is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the values “90 and 120 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Trigonal bipyramid.” The fifth space in the second column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on six sides. The angle between the bonds is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “90 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Octahedral.” The first space in the third column is empty while the second contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on each side and has a lone pair of electrons. The angle between the bonds is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “less than 120 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Bent or angular.” The third space in the third column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X three times and to a lone pair of electrons. It is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “less than 109 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Trigonal pyramid.” The fourth space in the third column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on four sides and has a lone pair of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the values, “less than 90 and less than 120 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Sawhorse or seesaw.” The fifth space in the third column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on five sides and has a lone pair of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “less than 90 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Square pyramidal.” The first and second spaces in the fourth column are empty while the third contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on each side and has two lone pairs of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “less than less than 109 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Bent or angular.” The fourth space in the fourth column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X three times and to two lone pairs of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “less than 90 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “T - shape.” The fifth space in the fourth column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on four sides and has two lone pairs of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value “90 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Square planar.” The first, second and third spaces in the fifth column are empty while the fourth contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on each side and has three lone pairs of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “180 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Linear.” The fifth space in the fifth column contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X three times and to three lone pairs of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value, “less than 90 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “T - shape.” The first, second, third, and fourth spaces in the sixth column are empty while the fifth contains a structure in which the letter E is single bonded to the letter X on each side and has four lone pairs of electrons. The bond angle is labeled with a curved, double headed arrow and the value “180 degrees.” The structure is labeled, “Linear.” All the structures use wedges and dashes to give them three dimensional appearances.
The molecular structures are identical to the electron-pair geometries when there are no lone pairs present (first column). For a particular number of electron pairs (row), the molecular structures for one or more lone pairs are determined based on modifications of the corresponding electron-pair geometry. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

According to VSEPR theory, the terminal atom locations are equivalent within the linear, trigonal planar, and tetrahedral electron-pair geometries (the first three rows of the table). It does not matter which X is replaced with a lone pair because the molecules can be rotated to convert positions. For trigonal bipyramidal electron-pair geometries, however, there are two distinct X positions, as shown in Figure 6: an axial position (if we hold a model of a trigonal bipyramid by the two axial positions, we have an axis around which we can rotate the model) and an equatorial position (three positions form an equator around the middle of the molecule). The axial position is surrounded by bond angles of 90°, whereas the equatorial position has more space available because of the 120° bond angles. In a trigonal bipyramidal electron-pair geometry, lone pairs always occupy equatorial positions because these more spacious positions can more easily accommodate the larger lone pairs.

Theoretically, we can come up with three possible arrangements for the three bonds and two lone pairs for the ClF3 molecule. The stable structure is the one that puts the lone pairs in equatorial locations, giving a T-shaped molecular structure.

Four sets of images are shown and labeled, “a,” “b,” “c,” and “d.” Each image is separated by a dashed vertical line. Image a shows a six-faced, bi-pyramidal structure where the central vertical axis is labeled, “Axial,” and the horizontal plane is labeled, “Equatorial.” Image b shows a pair of diagrams in the same shape as image a, but in these diagrams, the left has a chlorine atom in the center while the right has a chlorine atom in the center, two fluorine atoms on the upper and lower ends, and one fluorine in the left horizontal position. Image c shows a pair of diagrams in the same shape as image a, but in these diagrams, the left has a chlorine atom in the center while the right has a chlorine atom in the center and three fluorine atoms in each horizontal position. Image d shows a pair of diagrams in the same shape as image a, but in these diagrams, the left has a chlorine atom in the center while the right has a chlorine atom in the center, two fluorine atoms in the horizontal positions, and one in the axial bottom position.
(a) In a trigonal bipyramid, the two axial positions are located directly across from one another, whereas the three equatorial positions are located in a triangular arrangement. (b–d) The two lone pairs (red lines) in ClF3 have several possible arrangements, but the T-shaped molecular structure (b) is the one actually observed, consistent with the larger lone pairs both occupying equatorial positions. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

When a central atom has two lone electron pairs and four bonding regions, we have an octahedral electron-pair geometry. The two lone pairs are on opposite sides of the octahedron (180° apart), giving a square planar molecular structure that minimizes lone pair-lone pair repulsions.

Related Topic: VSEPR Theory

Source:

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


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