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5.6: Representing Aqueous Reactions- Molecular, Ionic, and Complete Ionic Equations

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    The chemical equations discussed in Chapter 7 showed the identities of the reactants and the products and gave the stoichiometries of the reactions, but they told us very little about what was occurring in solution. In contrast, equations that show only the hydrated species focus our attention on the chemistry that is taking place and allow us to see similarities between reactions that might not otherwise be apparent.

    Let’s consider the reaction of silver nitrate with potassium dichromate. As you learned in Example 9, when aqueous solutions of silver nitrate and potassium dichromate are mixed, silver dichromate forms as a red solid. The overall chemical equationA chemical equation that shows all the reactants and products as undissociated, electrically neutral compounds. for the reaction shows each reactant and product as undissociated, electrically neutral compounds:

    \[2AgNO_3(aq) + K_2Cr_2O_7(aq) \rightarrow Ag_2Cr_2O_7(s) + 2KNO_3(aq)\label{8.4.1}\]

    Although Equation \(\ref{8.4.1}\) gives the identity of the reactants and the products, it does not show the identities of the actual species in solution. Because ionic substances such as AgNO3 and K2Cr2O7 are strong electrolytes, they dissociate completely in aqueous solution to form ions. In contrast, because Ag2Cr2O7 is not very soluble, it separates from the solution as a solid. To find out what is actually occurring in solution, it is more informative to write the reaction as a complete ionic equation, showing which ions and molecules are hydrated and which are present in other forms and phases:

    \[2Ag^+(aq) + 2NO_3^-(aq) + 2K^+(aq) + Cr_2O_7^{2-}(aq) \rightarrow Ag_2Cr_2O_7(s) + 2K^+(aq) + 2NO_3^-(aq)\label{8.4.2}\]

    Note that K+(aq) and NO3(aq) ions are present on both sides of the equation, and their coefficients are the same on both sides. These ions are called spectator ions because they do not participate in the actual reaction. Canceling the spectator ions gives the net ionic equation, which shows only those species that participate in the chemical reaction:

    \[2Ag^+(aq) + Cr_2O_7^{2-}(aq) \rightarrow Ag_2Cr_2O_7(s)\label{8.4.3}\]

    Both mass and charge must be conserved in chemical reactions because the numbers of electrons and protons do not change. For charge to be conserved, the sum of the charges of the ions multiplied by their coefficients must be the same on both sides of the equation. In Equation \(\ref{8.4.3}\), the charge on the left side is 2(+1) + 1(−2) = 0, which is the same as the charge of a neutral Ag2Cr2O7 formula unit.

    By eliminating the spectator ions, we can focus on the chemistry that takes place in a solution. For example, the overall chemical equation for the reaction between silver fluoride and ammonium dichromate is as follows:

    \[2AgF(aq) + (NH_4)_2Cr_2O_7(aq) \rightarrow Ag_2Cr_2O_7(s) + 2NH_4F(aq)\label{8.4.4}\]

    The complete ionic equation for this reaction is as follows:

    \[2Ag^+(aq) + 2F^-(aq) + 2NH_4^+(aq) + Cr_2O_7^{2-}(aq) \rightarrow Ag_2Cr_2O_7(s) + 2NH_4^+(aq) + 2F^-(aq)\label{8.4.5}\]

    Because two NH4+(aq) and two F(aq) ions appear on both sides of Equation \(\ref{8.4.5}\), they are spectator ions. They can therefore be canceled to give the net ionic equation (Equation \(\ref{8.4.6}\)), which is identical to Equation \(\ref{8.4.3}\):

    \[2Ag^+(aq) + Cr_2O_7^{2-}(aq) \rightarrow Ag_2Cr_2O_7(s)\label{8.4.6}\]

    If we look at net ionic equations, it becomes apparent that many different combinations of reactants can result in the same net chemical reaction. For example, we can predict that silver fluoride could be replaced by silver nitrate in the preceding reaction without affecting the outcome of the reaction.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Write the overall chemical equation, the complete ionic equation, and the net ionic equation for the reaction of aqueous barium nitrate with aqueous sodium phosphate to give solid barium phosphate and a solution of sodium nitrate.

    Given: reactants and products

    Asked for: overall, complete ionic, and net ionic equations


    Write and balance the overall chemical equation. Write all the soluble reactants and products in their dissociated form to give the complete ionic equation; then cancel species that appear on both sides of the complete ionic equation to give the net ionic equation.


    From the information given, we can write the unbalanced chemical equation for the reaction:

    \[Ba(NO_3)_2(aq) + Na_3PO_4(aq) \rightarrow Ba_3(PO_4)_2(s) + NaNO_3(aq)\]

    Because the product is Ba3(PO4)2, which contains three Ba2+ ions and two PO43− ions per formula unit, we can balance the equation by inspection:

    \[ 3Ba(NO_3)_2(aq) + 2Na_3PO_4(aq) \rightarrow Ba_3(PO_4)_2(s) + 6NaNO_3(aq) \]

    This is the overall balanced chemical equation for the reaction, showing the reactants and products in their undissociated form. To obtain the complete ionic equation, we write each soluble reactant and product in dissociated form:

    \[ 3Ba^{2+}(aq) + 6NO_3^-(aq) + 6Na^+(aq) + 2PO_4^{3-}(aq) \rightarrow Ba_3(PO_4)_2(s) + 6Na^+(aq) + 6NO_3^-(aq) \]

    The six NO3(aq) ions and the six Na+(aq) ions that appear on both sides of the equation are spectator ions that can be canceled to give the net ionic equation:

    \[3Ba^{2+}(aq) + 2PO_4^{3-}(aq) \rightarrow Ba_3(PO_4)_2(s)\]

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Write the overall chemical equation, the complete ionic equation, and the net ionic equation for the reaction of aqueous silver fluoride with aqueous sodium phosphate to give solid silver phosphate and a solution of sodium fluoride.


    overall chemical equation:

    \[3AgF(aq) + Na_3PO_4(aq) \rightarrow Ag_3PO_4(s) + 3NaF(aq)\]

    complete ionic equation:

    \[3Ag^+(aq) + 3F^-(aq) + 3Na^+(aq) + PO_4^{3-}(aq) \rightarrow Ag_3PO_4(s) + 3Na^+(aq) + 3F^-(aq)\]

    net ionic equation:

    \[3Ag^+(aq) + PO_4^{3-}(aq) \rightarrow Ag_3PO_4(s)\]

    So far, we have always indicated whether a reaction will occur when solutions are mixed and, if so, what products will form. As you advance in chemistry, however, you will need to predict the results of mixing solutions of compounds, anticipate what kind of reaction (if any) will occur, and predict the identities of the products. Students tend to think that this means they are supposed to “just know” what will happen when two substances are mixed. Nothing could be further from the truth: an infinite number of chemical reactions is possible, and neither you nor anyone else could possibly memorize them all. Instead, you must begin by identifying the various reactions that could occur and then assessing which is the most probable (or least improbable) outcome.

    The most important step in analyzing an unknown reaction is to write down all the species—whether molecules or dissociated ions—that are actually present in the solution (not forgetting the solvent itself) so that you can assess which species are most likely to react with one another. The easiest way to make that kind of prediction is to attempt to place the reaction into one of several familiar classifications, refinements of the five general kinds of reactions introduced in Chapter 3 (acid–base, exchange, condensation, cleavage, and oxidation–reduction reactions). In the sections that follow, we discuss three of the most important kinds of reactions that occur in aqueous solutions: precipitation reactions (also known as exchange reactions), acid–base reactions, and oxidation–reduction reactions.


    The chemical equation for a reaction in solution can be written in three ways. The overall chemical equation shows all the substances present in their undissociated forms; the complete ionic equation shows all the substances present in the form in which they actually exist in solution; and the net ionic equation is derived from the complete ionic equation by omitting all spectator ions, ions that occur on both sides of the equation with the same coefficients. Net ionic equations demonstrate that many different combinations of reactants can give the same net chemical reaction.

    Key Takeaway

    • A complete ionic equation consists of the net ionic equation and spectator ions.

    Conceptual Problem

    1. What information can be obtained from a complete ionic equation that cannot be obtained from the overall chemical equation?


    5.6: Representing Aqueous Reactions- Molecular, Ionic, and Complete Ionic Equations is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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