This section explores polyatomic ions, covalent compounds, and naming compounds in greater detail. The section below provides more detailed description of these topics, worked examples, practice problems and a glossary of important terms.
The ions that we have discussed so far are called monatomic ions, that is, they are ions formed from only one atom. We also find many polyatomic ions. These ions, which act as discrete units, are electrically charged molecules (a group of bonded atoms with an overall charge). Oxyanions are polyatomic ions that contain one or more oxygen atoms. At this point in your study of chemistry, you should memorize the names, formulas, and charges of the most common polyatomic ions (Table 1). Because you will use them repeatedly, they will all (Table 1 and Table 2) soon become familiar.
|Polyatomic Ion Name||Chemical Formula||Polyatomic Ion Name||Chemical Formula|
Note that there is a system for naming some polyatomic ions; -ate and -ite are suffixes designating polyatomic ions containing more or fewer oxygen atoms. Per- (short for “hyper” meaning “above”) and hypo- (meaning “under”) are prefixes meaning more oxygen atoms than -ate and fewer oxygen atoms than -ite, respectively. For example, perchlorate is ClO4−, chlorate is ClO3−, chlorite is ClO2− and hypochlorite is ClO−. Unfortunately, the number of oxygen atoms corresponding to a given suffix or prefix is not consistent; for example, nitrate is NO3− while sulfate is SO42−.
Compounds are classified as ionic or covalent (molecular) on the basis of the bonds present in them. When electrons are transferred and ions form, ionic bonds result. Ionic bonds are electrostatic forces of attraction between cations and anions. When electrons are “shared” and molecules form, covalent bonds result. Covalent bonds are the attractive forces between the positively charged nuclei of the bonded atoms and one or more pairs of electrons that are located between the atoms.
Compounds Containing Polyatomic Ions
Compounds containing polyatomic ions are named similarly to those containing only monatomic ions, except there is no need to change to an –ide ending, since the suffix is already present in the name of the anion. Examples are shown in Table 3.
|KC2H3O2, potassium acetate||NH4Cl, ammonium chloride|
|NaHCO3, sodium hydrogen carbonate||CaSO4, calcium sulfate|
|Al2(CO3)3, aluminum carbonate||Mg3(PO4)2, magnesium phosphate|
Ionic Compounds in Your Cabinets
Every day you encounter and use a large number of ionic compounds. Some of these compounds, where they are found, and what they are used for are listed in Table 4. Look at the label or ingredients list on the various products that you use during the next few days, and see if you run into any of those in this table, or find other ionic compounds that you could now name or write as a formula.
|NaCl, sodium chloride||ordinary table salt|
|KI, potassium iodide||added to “iodized” salt for thyroid health|
|NaF, sodium fluoride||ingredient in toothpaste|
|NaHCO3, sodium hydrogen carbonate (aka sodium bicarbonate)||baking soda; used in cooking (and as antacid)|
|Na2CO3, sodium carbonate||washing soda; used in cleaning agents|
|NaOCl, sodium hypochlorite||active ingredient in household bleach|
|CaCO3 calcium carbonate||ingredient in antacids|
|Mg(OH)2, magnesium hydroxide||ingredient in antacids|
|Al(OH)3, aluminum hydroxide||ingredient in antacids|
|NaOH, sodium hydroxide||lye; used as drain cleaner|
|K3PO4, potassium phosphate||food additive (many purposes)|
|MgSO4, magnesium sulfate||added to purified water|
|Na2HPO4, sodium hydrogen phosphate||anti-caking agent; used in powdered products|
|Na2SO3, sodium sulfite||preservative|
Many ionic compounds contain polyatomic ions (Table 1 and Table 2) as the cation, the anion, or both. As with simple ionic compounds, these compounds must also be electrically neutral, so their formulas can be predicted by treating the polyatomic ions as discrete units. We use parentheses in a formula to indicate a group of atoms that behave as a unit. For example, the formula for calcium phosphate, one of the minerals in our bones, is Ca3(PO4)2. This formula indicates that there are three calcium ions (Ca2+) for every two phosphate (PO43−) groups. The PO43− groups are discrete units, each consisting of one phosphorus atom and four oxygen atoms, and having an overall charge of 3−. The compound is electrically neutral, and its formula shows a total count of three Ca, two P, and eight O atoms.
Predicting the Formula of a Compound with a Polyatomic Anion
Baking powder contains calcium dihydrogen phosphate, an ionic compound composed of the ions Ca2+ and H2PO4−. What is the formula of this compound?
The positive and negative charges must balance, and this ionic compound must be electrically neutral. Thus, we must have two negative charges to balance the 2+ charge of the calcium ion. This requires a ratio of one Ca2+ ion to two H2PO4− ions. We designate this by enclosing the formula for the dihydrogen phosphate ion in parentheses and adding a subscript 2. The formula is Ca(H2PO4)2.
Check Your Learning
Predict the formula of the ionic compound formed between the lithium ion and the peroxide ion, O22− (Hint: Use the periodic table to predict the sign and the charge on the lithium ion.)
Because an ionic compound is not made up of single, discrete molecules, it may not be properly symbolized using a molecular formula. Instead, ionic compounds must be symbolized by a formula indicating the relative numbers of its constituent ions. For compounds containing only monatomic ions (such as NaCl) and for many compounds containing polyatomic ions (such as CaSO4), these formulas are just the empirical formulas introduced earlier in this chapter. However, the formulas for some ionic compounds containing polyatomic ions are not empirical formulas. For example, the ionic compound sodium oxalate is comprised of Na+ and C2O42− ions combined in a 2:1 ratio, and its formula is written as Na2C2O4. The subscripts in this formula are not the smallest-possible whole numbers, as each can be divided by 2 to yield the empirical formula, NaCO2. This, however, is not the accepted formula for sodium oxalate, as it does not accurately represent the compound’s polyatomic anion, C2O42−. We’ll revisit crystal structures of salts in Module 11.
The bonding characteristics of inorganic covalent compounds are different from ionic compounds, and they are named using a different system as well. The charges of cations and anions dictate their ratios in ionic compounds, so specifying the names of the ions provides sufficient information to determine chemical formulas. However, because covalent bonding allows for significant variation in the combination ratios of the atoms in a molecule, the names for molecular compounds must explicitly identify these ratios.
Compounds Composed of Two Elements
When two nonmetallic elements form a covalent compound, several combination ratios are often possible. For example, carbon and oxygen can form the compounds CO and CO2. Since these are different substances with different properties, they cannot both have the same name (they cannot both be called carbon oxide). To deal with this situation, we use a naming method that is somewhat similar to that used for ionic compounds, but with added prefixes to specify the numbers of atoms of each element. The name of the more metallic element (the one farther to the left and/or bottom of the periodic table) is first, followed by the name of the more nonmetallic element (the one farther to the right and/or top) with its ending changed to the suffix –ide. The numbers of atoms of each element are designated by the Greek prefixes shown in Table 5.
When only one atom of the first element is present, the prefix mono– is usually omitted from that part. Thus, CO is named carbon monoxide, and CO2 is called carbon dioxide. When two vowels are adjacent, the a in the Greek prefix is usually dropped. Some other examples are shown in Table 6.
|SO2||sulfur dioxide||BCl3||boron trichloride|
|SO3||sulfur trioxide||SF6||sulfur hexafluoride|
|NO2||nitrogen dioxide||PF5||phosphorus pentafluoride|
|N2O4||dinitrogen tetroxide||P4O10||tetraphosphorus decaoxide|
|N2O5||dinitrogen pentoxide||IF7||iodine heptafluoride|
There are a few common names that you will encounter as you continue your study of chemistry. For example, although NO is often called nitric oxide, its proper name is nitrogen monoxide. Similarly, N2O is known as nitrous oxide even though our rules would specify the name dinitrogen monoxide. (And H2O is usually called water, not dihydrogen monoxide.) You should commit to memory the common names of compounds as you encounter them.
Naming Covalent Compounds
Name the following covalent compounds:
Because these compounds consist solely of nonmetals, we use prefixes to designate the number of atoms of each element:
- sulfur hexafluoride
- dinitrogen trioxide
- dichlorine heptoxide
- tetraphosphorus hexoxide
Check Your Learning
Write the formulas for the following compounds:
- phosphorus pentachloride
- dinitrogen monoxide
- iodine heptafluoride
- carbon tetrachloride
(a) PCl5; (b) N2O; (c) IF7; (d) CCl4
The following website provides practice with naming chemical compounds and writing chemical formulas. You can choose binary, polyatomic, and variable charge ionic compounds, as well as molecular compounds.
Chemists use nomenclature rules to clearly name compounds. Ionic and molecular compounds are named using somewhat different methods. Some compounds contain polyatomic ions; the names of common polyatomic ions should be memorized. Molecular compounds can form with different ratios of their elements, so prefixes are used to specify the numbers of atoms of each element in a molecule of the compound. Examples include SF6, sulfur hexafluoride, and N2O4, dinitrogen tetroxide.
- polyatomic ion
- ion composed of more than one atom
- monoatomic ion
- ion composed of one atom
- polyatomic ion that contains one or more oxygen atoms
- ionic bond
- electrons are transferred to form an ionic compound held by electrostatic forces
- covalent bond
- electrons are shared to form a covalent compound held by attractive forces
- For each of the following pairs of ions, write the symbol for the formula of the compound they will form:
- NH4+, SO42−
- Na+, HPO42−
- Mg2+, PO43−
- NH4+, PO43−
- Na+, CO32−
- Ba2+, PO43−
- Write the formulas of the following compounds:
- chlorine dioxide
- dinitrogen tetraoxide
- potassium phosphide
- silver(I) sulfide
- aluminum nitride
- silicon dioxide
- Write the formulas of the following compounds:
- lithium carbonate
- sodium perchlorate
- barium hydroxide
- ammonium carbonate
- sulfuric acid
- calcium acetate
- magnesium phosphate
- sodium sulfite
- Indicate whether each of the following compounds displays ionic bonding, covalent bonding, both, or neither.
- (a) (NH4)2SO4; (b) Na2HPO4; (c) Mg3(PO4)2; (d) (NH4)3PO4; (e) Na2CO3; (f) Ba3(PO4)2
- (a) ClO2; (b) N2O4; (c) K3P; (d) Ag2S; (e) AlN; (f) SiO2
- (a) Li2CO3; (b) NaClO4; (c) Ba(OH)2; (d) (NH4)2CO3; (e) H2SO4; (f) Ca(C2H3O2)2;
(g) Mg3(PO4)2; (h) Na2SO3
- (a) covalent bonding
(b) ionic bonding
(c) covalent bonding
Please use this form to report any inconsistencies, errors, or other things you would like to change about this page. We appreciate your comments. 🙂