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- Draw resonance forms and predict the relative contribution of each resonance form to the overall structure of the compound or ion
Resonance contributors involve the ‘imaginary movement’ of pi-bonded electrons or of lone-pair electrons that are adjacent to (i.e. conjugated to) pi bonds. You can never shift the location of electrons in sigma bonds – if you show a sigma bond forming or breaking, you are showing a chemical reaction taking place. Likewise, the positions of atoms in the molecule cannot change between two resonance contributors.
Because benzene will appear throughout this course, it is important to recognize the stability gained through the resonance delocalization of the six pi electrons throughout the six carbon atoms. Benzene also illustrates one way to recognize resonance - when it is possible to draw two or more equivalent Lewis strucutres. If we were to draw the structure of an aromatic molecule such as 1,2-dimethylbenzene, there are two ways that we could draw the double bonds:
Which way is correct? There are two simple answers to this question: 'both' and 'neither one'. Both ways of drawing the molecule are equally acceptable approximations of the bonding picture for the molecule, but neither one, by itself, is an accurate picture of the delocalized pi bonds. The two alternative drawings, however, when considered together, give a much more accurate picture than either one on its own. This is because they imply, together, that the carbon-carbon bonds are not double bonds, not single bonds, but about halfway in between.
When it is possible to draw more than one valid structure for a compound or ion, we have identified resonance contributors: two or more different Lewis structures depicting the same molecule or ion that, when considered together, do a better job of approximating delocalized pi-bonding than any single structure. By convention, resonance contributors are linked by a double-headed arrow, and are sometimes enclosed by brackets:
In order to make it easier to visualize the difference between two resonance contributors, small, curved arrows are often used. Each of these arrows depicts the ‘movement’ of two pi electrons. A few chapters from now when we begin to study organic reactions - a process in which electron density shifts and covalent bonds between atoms break and form - this ‘curved arrow notation’ will become extremely important in depicting electron movement. In the drawing of resonance contributors, however, this electron ‘movement’ occurs only in our minds, as we try to visualize delocalized pi bonds. Nevertheless, use of the curved arrow notation is an essential skill that you will need to develop in drawing resonance contributors.
The depiction of benzene using the two resonance contributors A and B in the figure above does not imply that the molecule at one moment looks like structure A, then at the next moment shifts to look like structure B. Rather, at all moments, the molecule is a combination, or resonance hybrid of both A and B.
Caution! It is very important to be clear that in drawing two (or more) resonance contributors, we are not drawing two different molecules: they are simply different depictions of the exact same molecule. Furthermore, the double-headed resonance arrow does NOT mean that a chemical reaction has taken place.
Usually, derivatives of benzene (and phenyl groups, when the benzene ring is incorporated into a larger organic structure) are depicted with only one resonance contributor, and it is assumed that the reader understands that resonance hybridization is implied. This is the convention that will be used for the most part in this book. In other books or articles, you may sometimes see benzene or a phenyl group drawn with a circle inside the hexagon, either solid or dashed, as a way of drawing a resonance hybrid.
Curved arrows communicate electron flow (movement)
Curved arrows indicate electron flow. The base of the curved arrow is placed at the source of the electrons that are moving. The head of the arrow is placed at the destination of the electrons. A single barbed arrow represents one electron and a double barb represents two electrons. Electrons move from regions of relative high density to regions of low density or toward electronegative elements. It is important to use accuracy and precision when drawing curved arrows.
It is also important to consciously use the correct type of arrow. There are four primary types of arrows used by chemists to communicate one of the following: completion reaction, equilibrium reaction, electron movement, resonance forms. The three other types of arrows are shown below to build discernment between them.
Resonance Delocalizes Charge to Increase Stability
Resonance is most useful wen it delocalizes charge to stabilize reactive intermediates and products. Recognizing, drawing, and evaluating the relative stability of resonance contributors is essential to understanding organic reaction mechanisms.
Guidelines for drawing and working with resonance contributors
Learning to draw and interpret resonance structures, there are a few basic guidelines to help avoid drawing nonsensical structures. All of these guidellines make perfect sense as long as we remember that resonance contributors are merely a human-invented convention for depicting the delocalization of pi electrons in conjugated systems. When we see two different resonance contributors, we are not seeing a chemical reaction! We are seeing the exact same molecule or ion depicted in two different ways. All resonance contributors must be drawn as proper Lewis structures, with correct formal charges. Never show curved 'electron movement' arrows that would lead to a situation where a second-row element (ie. carbon, nitrogen, or oxygen) has more than eight electrons: this would break the 'octet rule'. Sometimes, however, we will draw resonance contributors in which a carbon atom has only six electrons (ie. a carbocation). In general, all oxygen and nitrogen atoms should have a complete octet of valence electrons.
1. There is ONLY ONE STRUCTURE for each compound or ion. This structure takes its character from the sum of all the contributors, not all resonance structures contribute equally to the sum.
2. Atoms must maintain their same position.
3. Only e- move !
4. All resonance contributors for a molecule or ion must have the same net charge.
5. Recognize which electrons can participate in resonance
a) unshared e- pairs or radicals
b) pi bond electrons
6. Recognize electron receptors
a) atoms with a positive (+) charge
b) electronegative atoms that can tolerate a negative charge
c) atoms which possess delocalizable electrons - see #4 above
7. Common electron flow patterns
a) move pi e- toward positive (+) charge or other pi bonds
b) move non-bonding e- pairs toward pi bonds
c) move single non-bonding e- toward pi bonds
Evaluating Resonance Contributors
1. Identical structures are equally important.
2. Structures will a greater number of bonds are more important.
3. Structures with charge separation are less important.
4. Pay attention to electronegativities.
5. Neutral atoms need to have complete octets.
Resonance Contributors for the Carboxylate Group
The convention of drawing two or more resonance contributors to approximate a single structure may seem a bit clumsy to you at this point, but as you gain experience you will see that the practice is actually very useful when discussing the manner in which many functional groups react. Let’s next consider the carboxylate ion (the conjugate base of a carboxylic acid). As our example, we will use formate, the simplest possible carboxylate-containing molecule. The conjugate acid of formate is formic acid, which causes the painful sting you felt if you have ever been bitten by an ant.
Usually, you will see carboxylate groups drawn with one carbon-oxygen double bond and one carbon-oxygen single bond, with a negative formal charge located on the single-bonded oxygen. In actuality, however, the two carbon-oxygen bonds are the same length, and although there is indeed an overall negative formal charge on the group, it is shared equally between the two oxygens. Therefore, the carboxylate can be more accurately depicted by a pair of resonance contributors. Alternatively, a single structure can be used, with a dashed line depicting the resonance-delocalized pi bond and the negative charge located in between the two oxygens.
Let’s see if we can correlate these drawing conventions to a valence bond theory picture of the bonding in a carboxylate group. We know that the carbon must be sp2-hybridized, (the bond angles are close to 120˚, and the molecule is planar), and we will treat both oxygens as being sp2-hybridized as well. Both carbon-oxygen sigma bonds, then, are formed from the overlap of carbon sp2 orbitals and oxygen sp2 orbitals.
In addition, the carbon and both oxygens each have an unhybridized 2pz orbital situated perpendicular to the plane of the sigma bonds. These three 2pz orbitals are parallel to each other, and can overlap in a side-by-side fashion to form a delocalized pi bond.
Resonance contributor A shows oxygen #1 sharing a pair of electrons with carbon in a pi bond, and oxygen #2 holding a lone pair of electrons in its 2pz orbital. Resonance contributor B, on the other hand, shows oxygen #2 participating in the pi bond with carbon, and oxygen #1 holding a lone pair in its 2pz orbital. Overall, the situation is one of three parallel, overlapping 2pz orbitals sharing four delocalized pi electrons. Because there is one more electron than there are 2pz orbitals, the system has an overall charge of –1. This is the kind of 3D picture that resonance contributors are used to approximate, and once you get some practice you should be able to quickly visualize overlapping 2pz orbitals and delocalized pi electrons whenever you see resonance structures being used. In this text, carboxylate groups will usually be drawn showing only one resonance contributor for the sake of simplicity, but you should always keep in mind that the two C-O bonds are equal, and that the negative charge is delocalized to both oxygens.