Lewis dot structures (or simply Lewis structures) were developed about 1920 by pioneering chemist Gilbert Lewis, together a method of picturing chemical bonding in molecules.

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We draw Lewis structures to

discover the bonding arrangement the atoms, find whether over there is any kind of degeneracy the bonding (more on that later), figure out even if it is a provided group that atoms can even bond together to form a molecule at all, and also Discover clues around the three-dimensional structure of molecules.

In a Lewis structure, every atom is surrounded by dots that stand for its valence-shell electrons. So nitrogen (N) would look favor this:

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Sometimes we attract the electrons of various atoms with different colors or signs so we deserve to keep track of them, prefer this:

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OK, let"s learn exactly how to use Lewis structures.


You might have viewed the bonding of methane already in the ar on covalent bonding. With Lewis structures, we take a trial-and-error strategy to figuring the end bonding patterns. The goal is to make certain that each atom is surrounded by eight dots (two for hydrogen), representing eight valence electrons, some mutual in bonds.

In this structure, the carbon atoms shares among its valence electrons through each hydrogen,


and each hydrogen share its single electron through carbon to make a compound through a complete valence shell.

In the figure below, the main carbon is surrounded by a finish octet that eight electrons, and each hydrogen has its capacity, two electrons, by share electrons.

Two electrons in between atoms suggests a single bond, which deserve to be rewritten, together on the right, by a single bar.


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Ammonia is NH3. Nitrogen has five valence electrons and each hydrogen bring one to the molecule. It"s basic to check out that those 3 electrons indigenous the hydrogens could finish an octet on the nitrogen: 5 + 3 = 8.

There"s a twist in this molecule—a tiny one—and it provides ammonia some startling properties, some of which are past the scope of these notes, however trust me, they"re cool.

The figure below shows how to build the Lewis structure. Start with each atom surrounding by its valence electrons, 5 because that N, 1 because that H. I like to color each atom"s electrons in different way so I have the right to keep track of them, yet it"s no absolutely necessary.


Arrange the atoms by trial and error (and intuition that you"ll build with sufficient practice) to get a structure in i beg your pardon the share of electrons completes the valence shells of every atoms. That"s the most likely means the molecule will bond.

One that the pairs of electrons on the nitrogen of ammonia is not bonded. We call that a lone pair. It occupies its own stable orbital, as shown in the rod diagram ~ above the right.


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Lewis structures

Lewis structures tell us about the most-likely bonding arrangement and also bond species of molecules, however they call us small about the framework - the 3D shape of the molecule. For that we"ll require other skills.


Example 3: Water, H2O


Water is a really important molecule, therefore it"s crucial to recognize its bonding, i m sorry will consequently create all of its other properties.

The Lewis structure of water shows that the oxygen atom has two lone pairs.

Those lone pairs, together with the huge difference in electronegativity between oxygen and also hydrogen, offer water among its most necessary properties, its strong polarity.

In the rendering on the right listed below you deserve to see the water, which actually is a bend planar molecule (again, friend wouldn"t necessarily recognize this just from the Lewis structure), has actually a negative end and a positive end.


More correctly, it has one end that is more negative 보다 the other (called δ-) and one more positive (called δ+). The unbonded electron pairs create a an ar of dense an unfavorable charge. And also because oxygen holds the bonding electron of the H-atoms tightly come itself, the H-atoms are basically bare protons hanging turn off the oxygen.

The polarity the water and also its capacity to hydrogen bond offers water some of the nature that are deeply intertwined with the chemistry of living points on Earth. It"s for that factor that it"s an overwhelming for united state to conceive of life on another planet without water – but you never understand ...


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Example 4: double & triple bonds


Lewis structures can display us when twin and triple binding are most likely, or perhaps the just kind that bonding the make a molecule possible. Below are some Lewis structures that contain double and triple bonds (and certainly the genuine molecules do, too).

The double bonds in carbon dioxide, CO2, space what make it a linear, non-polar molecule, and that structure, in turn, gives it most of its properties.


CO2 solidifies, for example, at about -57˚C, and the liquid only exists if the gas is inserted under around 5 atmospheres of pressure. The triple bond the nitrogen gas, N2, is really strong. Return our environment is greatly nitrogen in the form of N2, most organisms on planet can"t use it in that form because they can"t break the bond. Lock require other sources of the crucial element.


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Example 5: Degeneracy


Some Lewis frameworks will bring about bonding that is ambiguous. A dual bond could be present between an atom and also one or more other identical partners. Which one to choose? This is referred to as a degeneracy, and also it turns out the nature tends to choose both, neither, and also a mix of the two bonds.

As an example, let"s look at the Lewis framework of nitric acid, HNO3. Very first the atoms through their valence electrons:

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Now we deserve to arrange the bond in 2 ways. In both, every atoms have a full valence shell. Right here they are:

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Take a minute and also convince yourself that every atom (except the hydrogen) has actually an octet of electron in that valence.


Here space the two structures in rod form:

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So i beg your pardon one go nature pick? Well, it transforms out the whenever we have actually two equivalent structures favor this (we have actually two degenerate frameworks or a degeneracy), nature choose a mix of both, and also we"re much better off composing the two bonds more like 1-1/2 bonds, like this:

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Notice the the red oxygen is various than the other two. It"s bound come a hydrogen and also the electronegativity distinction makes this bond an ext ionic than covalent. The result is the the hydrogen have the right to detach together a ceiling proton fairly readily, leave a NO3- ion behind. That"s why HNO3 is an acid.


Example 6: carbonate ion, CO32-


Now let"s see just how a molecular ion, the carbonate ion, CO32-, deserve to bond stably. When we work-related with ions, we start with the usual variety of valence electron of a neutral molecule, in this situation four for carbon and six for each that the 3 oxygens. Yet this is a 2- ion, for this reason we"ll add two electron to the neutral mix to offer it the -2 net charge.

Those last two electrons can be to fill in almost everywhere they"re essential to type a complete valence. We start with the life materials:

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Now put them together and use the 2 extra (red) electron to to fill in any gaps in stimulate to form full valence shells because that every atom.

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Finally, notice that this is another degenerate structure. There room two other identical places to placed our twin bond, prefer this:

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In this case, the fact is the each C-O link is equal, more powerful than a solitary bond, yet weaker than a double bond. We might write the structure of CO32- prefer this:

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Here I"ve left turn off the lone bag of the oxygen atoms. There could be a paper definition in i beg your pardon we"d desire to show those, however most of the moment it"s faster to omit them.


Molecular ions


Many molecules for which secure valence shells can not be built from the variety of electrons existing on the neutral atom that compose them can be made stable if electrons are lost are gained. These are molecular ions.


Some vital molecular ions room OH-, NH4+, SO42-, PO43-, CO32-, COO- & CN-


Example 7: Sulfate ion, SO42-


The sulfate ion, SO42-, is a really interesting exception to plenty of of our assumptions around bonding. In fact, it led to a lot of of debate in the chemistry community early on. At very first glance, through sulfur and oxygen both holding six valence electrons, we can draw a Lewis structure choose this:

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The difficulty is that the two extra charges required to stabilize this molecule space localized on the sulfur atom. Nature tends to spread that extra fee out, and sometimes at a cost that deserve to contradict what we"ve currently learned. In this case, it"s the octet rule. In fact, SO42- often tends to bond much more like this:

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Now the extra charges space a little much more spread out, and also we deserve to see the there"s nothing special about our twin bond locations, which way resonance structures and even an ext spreading of charge. Yet the twelve electrons about the sulfur space troubling. Remember the sulfur has d-electrons, and also some the those are supplied as valence electrons.


Overall this structure is much more stable 보다 the all singly external inspection one.

Here are all of the resonance develops of SO42-, and also they result in an ion with four identical bond that room somewhere between double and single in strength.

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It to be a measure up of the S-O bond length in SO42- that led to a deeper examination of the bonding.

You shouldn"t feel choose you candlestick to have actually recognized this case. The took part Nobel-prize winning chemists, including Linus Pauling, some time and far-reaching argument to i found it the truth. It states a lot about the nature of the electron, if girlfriend think around it.


Some various other exceptions


The sulfate ion (above) is one instance of an exemption to the octet rules. There space others. I"m not sure there"s any point in memorizing such exceptions; far better to recognize that lock exist and be wary that them. Understand some the the signs that one exception could exist. Right here are a couple of examples.

Phosphorus pentachloride, PCl5

Phosphorus pentachloride (PCl5) is an exemption to the octet rule. You can see the Lewis structure of PCl3 in the practice troubles below. Since a chlorine atom only demands one electron to finish its valence shell, it share one and also only one electron v phosphorus, for this reason in PCl5, phosphorus is surrounding by a complete of ten electrons. That does this by utilizing its d-shell electrons.

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A more 3-dimensional structure is shown on the right. Three chlorines are in a aircraft (blue triangle) and also the heat containing the various other two cuts with the facility of the triangle and also is perpendicular to it. The plan is called a trigonal bipyramid.


Sulfur hexafluoride, SF6

For similar reasons, sulfur have the right to bind to six fluorine atom with single bonds in a square bipyramid arrangement.

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Xenon hexafluoride, XeF6

Finally, we don"t typically think that noble gases connecting with anything, permit alone developing bonds. But it transforms out the if the noble gas is huge enough, like xenon (Xe), the d-orbitals can permit bonds come form. Xenon forms a pair of covalent compounds, among which is XF6.

XF6 looks similar to SF6, yet the main Xe is now surrounded through 14 electrons.

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Practice problems

Roll over the box to view the answers - but not before you"ve tried that yourself!



When it"s as well close to call: official charge


Sometimes it"s daunting to call which that two feasible Lewis structures of a compound represents the actual bonding that the molecule. In those instances we will to calculating what"s called the formal charge of every atom. Formal charge is just a way of accounting that helps united state to decision which of lot of Lewis structures is the likely true bonding setup of a covalent molecule. The amount of the official charges, with a pair of extra rules, will help us to decide which of multiple-possible precious Lewis structures is likely to it is in the exactly one. Here"s exactly how it"s done.

Calculating formal fee

For every atom

counting the number of valence electrons of the neutral atom. Subtract the variety of non-bonding electrons (usually in lone pairs). Subtract the variety of bonds common by the atom. Example: CH4 (methane)

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The carbon in CH4 has 4 electrons as a neutral atom. It has actually no lone pairs, and also it shares four bonds, therefore the formal fee is zero. Every hydrogen atom has actually one electron as a neutral atom, no lone pairs and shares one bond, for a formal charge of zero. All atoms in the molecule have zero formal charge, the "happiest" instance for any molecule.

Example: H3C(CO)CH3, (acetone)

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The central carbon has actually a formal fee of 4 (valence electrons) - 0 (lone pairs) - 4 (bonds) = 0. The oxygen has actually a formal fee of 6 - 4 - 2 = 0 (same notified of terms). Every of the methyl (CH3) carbons has a formal fee of 4 - 0 - 4 = 0


Distinguishing in between two valid Lewis structures

Here is an instance of a case where us can uncover two precious Lewis frameworks for a compound, fulminic mountain (HCNO). We deserve to use official charges to decide which is most likely to it is in the actual arrangement of atoms. Right here are the structures:

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Now let"s calculate the officially charges of the lower structure, making use of double-bonds:

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Note that the carbon has a formal charge of -1 and the nitrogen a charge of -1. The officially charges that the structure with the triple link look favor this:

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Here, the oxygen — the many electronegative aspect in the molecule — has actually the an unfavorable charge, and also the nitrogen retains its +1 charge. This structure is an ext likely to it is in the exactly one, because the an adverse charge is ~ above the many electronegative element of C, N and also O.


The Lewis structure most likely to stand for the yes, really bonding arrangement is the one in which all officially charges space the closest to zero.

If two structures have comparable formal charges, the one in which a negative charge lies top top the many electronegative atom wins.


Here space the formal charges on every atom because that each bonding arrangement. The totally double-bonded framework (right) has actually the lowest formal dues on each atom. Even though sulfur has actually a bonded valence the 12 electrons, this is tho the most stable structure. A couple of elements in the third row of the regular table, to add a good many aspects with d-electrons, are capable of this.

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This bonding plan of SO3 is evidenced by experiment, which mirrors that its framework is trigonal-planar (a flat molecule through oxygen atom at the vertices the an it is intended triangle. VSEPR concept predicts that the 1- and 2-double bonded frameworks would it is in a tiny different (but distinguishable).

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While formal charge assignment isn"t too helpful in other locations of chemistry, it have the right to be yes, really enlightening when questions around bonding favor this need to be resolved.