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Chemistry LibreTexts

4.1: Two Types of Bonding

Skills to Develop

  • Define the octet rule.
  • Describe how ionic bonds are formed.

Atoms can join together by forming a chemical bond, which is a very strong attraction between two atoms. Chemical bonds are formed when electrons in different atoms interact with each other to make an arrangement that is more stable than when the atoms are apart.

What causes atoms to make a chemical bond with other atoms, rather than remaining as individual atoms? A clue comes by considering the noble gas elements, the rightmost column of the periodic table. These elements—helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon—do not form compounds very easily, which suggests that they are especially stable as lone atoms. What else do the noble gas elements have in common? Except for helium, they all have eight valence electrons. Chemists have concluded that atoms are especially stable if they have eight electrons in their outermost shell. This useful rule of thumb is called the octet rule, and it is a key to understanding why compounds form.

Of the noble gases, only krypton, xenon, and radon have been found to make compounds.

There are two ways for an atom that does not have an octet of valence electrons to obtain an octet in its outer shell. One way is the transfer of electrons between two atoms until all atoms have octets. Because some atoms will lose electrons and some atoms will gain electrons, there is no overall change in the number of electrons, but individual atoms acquire a nonzero electric charge. Those that lose electrons become positively charged, and those that gain electrons become negatively charged. Charged atoms are called ions. Because opposite charges attract (while like charges repel), these oppositely charged ions attract each other, forming ionic bonds. The resulting compounds are called ionic compounds and are the primary subject of this chapter.

The second way for an atom to obtain an octet of electrons is by sharing electrons with another atom. These shared electrons simultaneously occupy the outermost shell of more than one atom. The bond made by electron sharing is called a covalent bond.

Despite our focus on the octet rule, we must remember that for small atoms, such as hydrogen, helium, and lithium, the first shell is, or becomes, the outermost shell and hold only two electrons. Therefore, these atoms satisfy a “duet rule” rather than the octet rule.

Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

A sodium atom has one valence electron. Do you think it is more likely for a sodium atom to lose one electron or gain seven electrons to obtain an octet?


Although either event is possible, a sodium atom is more likely to lose its single valence electron. When that happens, it becomes an ion with a net positive charge. This can be illustrated as follows:

Sodium atom Sodium ion
11 protons 11+ 11 protons 11+
11 electrons 11− 10 electrons 10−
  0 overall charge   +1 overall charge

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

A fluorine atom has seven valence electrons. Do you think it is more likely for a fluorine atom to lose seven electrons or gain one electron to obtain an octet?

Key Takeaways

  • Atoms have a tendency to have eight electrons in their valence shell.
  • The attraction of oppositely charged ions is what makes ionic bonds.


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