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7.2.5: Factors That Affect Acid Strength

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  • In Chapter 8, we will discuss the quantification of acid and base strength. First let us take a look at the factors that might affect the strength of an acid. As we have already seen, the ability of the conjugate base to hold on to (stabilize) the electron pair is crucial. There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest is that the acidic H is attached to an electronegative atom such as O, N, or a halogen. There is a wide range of acidities for oxyacids. The differences in acidity are determined by the number of places available for the extra electron density to be stabilized. The figure illustrates a fairly simple example of this in the difference between ethanol (CH3CH2OH) and acetic acid (CH3COOH). Acetic acid is about 10 billion times more acidic than ethanol, because the conjugate base (acetate) is able to stabilize the negative charge on two oxygens instead of just one. This “spreading out” of the charge diminishes the electron-electron repulsions, and stabilizes the structure more than if the negative charge were localized on just one oxygen. If you draw out the Lewis structures of the common strong inorganic oxy-acids (e.g. HNO3 or H2SO4), you will see that it is possible to delocalize the negative charge of the corresponding anion on more than one oxygen.


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