Recall that a Brønsted-Lowry acid is a proton, H+1, donor in solution, and a Brønsted-Lowry base is a proton, H+1, acceptor in solution. Because a specific ion, a proton, H+1, is always transferred from an acid to a base, the identities of the products that are formed during a Brønsted-Lowry acid/base reaction can be readily predicted.
Since a Brønsted-Lowry acid donates, or loses, a proton, H+1, during an acid/base reaction, the particle that is formed as a result of this transfer contains one less proton than the acid from which it was generated. In order to emphasize the relationship between an acid reactant and the chemical that is produced upon the dissociation of a proton, H+1, from that acid, Brønsted and Lowry designated these substances as conjugates, or, more formally, as a conjugate pair. By definition, the chemical formulas of conjugate particles must differ by exactly and only one proton, H+1, and should otherwise be identical to one another. Finally, relative to the acid that was initially present, the conjugate product is lacking and, consequently, has the capacity to gain, a proton. Therefore, the substance that is generated upon the loss of a proton, H+1, from a Brønsted-Lowry acid has the potential to be a proton, H+1, acceptor and, consequently, is the conjugate base of that acid.
For example, write the chemical formula that corresponds to the conjugate base of nitric acid, which can be classified as a Brønsted-Lowry acid.
As stated above, a conjugate base is produced when a Brønsted-Lowry acid donates a proton, H+1. Nitric acid, HNO3, is comprised of one hydrogen, H, one nitrogen, N, and three oxygens, O, and bears a net neutral charge. Because, by definition, the chemical formulas of conjugate particles must differ by exactly and only one proton, H+1, and should otherwise be identical to one another, the loss of a proton, H+1, from this acid generates a particle that is comprised of one nitrogen, N, and three oxygens, O, does not contain any hydrogen, H, and bears a net –1 charge. Therefore, the conjugate base of nitric acid, HNO3, is the nitrate ion, which is symbolized as NO3–1.