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5.4: Octet Rule - Ionic and Covalent Bonding (Review)

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  • Learning Objective

    Draw, interpret, and convert between Lewis (Kekule), Condensed, and Bond-line Structures

    Note: The review of general chemistry in sections 1.3 - 1.6 is integrated into the above Learning Objective for organic chemistry in sections 1.7 and 1.8.

    For organic chemistry, the emphasis is on the chemistry of carbon. The chemistry of carbon becomes more interesting when carbon is bonded to oxygen and/or nitrogen or other heteroatoms, atoms that are NOT carbon or hydrogen. Therefore, the octet rule is a strong factor in organic chemistry and is only violated by non-carbon elements like hydrogen, boron, aluminum, sulfur, and phosphorus.

    Why are some substances chemically bonded molecules and others are an association of ions? The answer to this question depends upon the electronic structures of the atoms and nature of the chemical forces within the compounds. Although there are no sharply defined boundaries, chemical bonds are typically classified into three main types: ionic bonds, covalent bonds, and metallic bonds. In this chapter, each type of bond will be discussed and the general properties found in typical substances in which the bond type occurs

    1. Ionic bonds results from electrostatic forces that exist between ions of opposite charge. These bonds typically involves a metal with a nonmetal
    2. Covalent bonds result from the sharing of electrons between two atoms. The bonds typically involves one nonmetallic element with another
    3. Metallic bonds These bonds are found in solid metals (copper, iron, aluminum) with each metal bonded to several neighboring groups and bonding electrons free to move throughout the 3-dimensional structure.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): G. N. Lewis and the Octet Rule. (a) Lewis is working in the laboratory. (b) In Lewis’s original sketch for the octet rule, he initially placed the electrons at the corners of a cube rather than placing them as we do now.

    The Octet Rule

    In 1904, Richard Abegg formulated what is now known as Abegg's rule, which states that the difference between the maximum positive and negative valences of an element is frequently eight. This rule was used later in 1916 when Gilbert N. Lewis formulated the "octet rule" in his cubical atom theory. The octet rule refers to the tendency of atoms to prefer to have eight electrons in the valence shell. When atoms have fewer than eight electrons, they tend to react and form more stable compounds. Atoms will react to get in the most stable state possible. A complete octet is very stable because all orbitals will be full. Atoms with greater stability have less energy, so a reaction that increases the stability of the atoms will release energy in the form of heat or light ;reactions that decrease stability must absorb energy, getting colder.

    The Octet Rule: Atoms often gain, lose, or share electrons to achieve the same number of electrons as the noble gas closest to them in the periodic table.

    When discussing the octet rule, we do not consider d or f electrons. Only the s and p electrons are involved in the octet rule, making it a useful rule for the main group elements (elements not in the transition metal or inner-transition metal blocks); an octet in these atoms corresponds to an electron configurations ending with s2p6.

    Covalent Bonds

    Covalent bonds form when atoms share electrons. Hydrogen is a first shell element with only one valence electron, so it can only form one bond creating a duet, an exception to the octet rule. With its four valence electrons, carbon can form four bonds to create an octet.

    1. Normally two electrons pairs up and forms a bond, e.g., \(H_2\)
    2. For most atoms there will be a maximum of eight electrons in the valence shell (octet structure), e.g., \(CH_4\)

    Figure 1: Bonding in \(H_2\) and methane (\(CH_4\))

    The other tendency of atoms is to maintain a neutral charge. Only the noble gases (the elements on the right-most column of the periodic table) have zero charge with filled valence octets. All of the other elements have a charge when they have eight electrons all to themselves. The result of these two guiding principles is the explanation for much of the reactivity and bonding that is observed within atoms: atoms seek to share electrons in a way that minimizes charge while fulfilling an octet in the valence shell.

    Ionic Bonds

    Some atoms do not share electrons. Energetically, it is more favorable to fully gain or lose electrons to form ions. Ionic compounds form through the eletrostatic attraction of the ions to create a crystal lattice.

    The formula for table salt is NaCl. It is the result of Na+ ions and Cl- ions bonding together. If sodium metal and chlorine gas mix under the right conditions, they will form salt. The sodium loses an electron, and the chlorine gains that electron. In the process, a great amount of light and heat is released. The resulting salt is mostly unreactive — it is stable. It will not undergo any explosive reactions, unlike the sodium and chlorine that it is made of. Why? Referring to the octet rule, atoms attempt to get a noble gas electron configuration, which is eight valence electrons. Sodium has one valence electron, so giving it up would result in the same electron configuration as neon. Chlorine has seven valence electrons, so if it takes one it will have eight (an octet). Chlorine has the electron configuration of argon when it gains an electron.

    The octet rule could have been satisfied if chlorine gave up all seven of its valence electrons and sodium took them. In that case, both would have the electron configurations of noble gasses, with a full valence shell. However, their charges would be much higher. It would be Na7- and Cl7+, which is much less stable than Na+ and Cl-. Atoms are more stable when they have no charge, or a small charge.

    Ionic Bonds Example

    Lewis dot symbols can also be used to represent the ions in ionic compounds. The reaction of cesium with fluorine, for example, to produce the ionic compound CsF can be written as follows:

    No dots are shown on Cs+ in the product because cesium has lost its single valence electron to fluorine. The transfer of this electron produces the Cs+ ion, which has the valence electron configuration of Xe, and the F ion, which has a total of eight valence electrons (an octet) and the Ne electron configuration. This description is consistent with the statement that among the main group elements, ions in simple binary ionic compounds generally have the electron configurations of the nearest noble gas. The charge of each ion is written in the product, and the anion and its electrons are enclosed in brackets. This notation emphasizes that the ions are associated electrostatically; no electrons are shared between the two elements.

    Noble Gases

    The noble gases rarely form compounds. They have the most stable configuration (full octet, no charge), so they have no reason to react and change their configuration. All other elements attempt to gain, lose, or share electrons to achieve a noble gas configuration.


    Lewis dot symbols can be used to predict the number of bonds formed by most elements in their compounds. One convenient way to predict the number and basic arrangement of bonds in compounds is by using Lewis electron dot symbols, which consist of the chemical symbol for an element surrounded by dots that represent its valence electrons, grouped into pairs often placed above, below, and to the left and right of the symbol. The structures reflect the fact that the elements in period 2 and beyond tend to gain, lose, or share electrons to reach a total of eight valence electrons in their compounds, the so-called octet rule. Hydrogen, with only two valence electrons, does not obey the octet rule.