Chemical compound

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2006-02-13 Drop-impact.jpg
Pure water (H2O) is an example of a compound. The ball-and-stick model of the molecule shows the spatial association of two parts hydrogen (white) and one part oxygen (red)

A chemical compound is a chemical substance composed of many identical molecules (or molecular entities) containing atoms from more than one chemical element held together by chemical bonds. A molecule consisting of atoms of only one element is therefore not a compound. A compound can be transformed into a different substance by a chemical reaction, which may involve interactions with other substances. In this process, bonds between atoms may be broken and/or new bonds formed.


There are four major types of compounds, distinguished by how the constituent atoms are bonded together. Molecular compounds are held together by covalent bonds; ionic compounds are held together by ionic bonds; intermetallic compounds are held together by metallic bonds; coordination complexes are held together by coordinate covalent bonds. Non-stoichiometric compounds form a disputed marginal case.

A chemical formula specifies the number of atoms of each element in a compound molecule, using the standard chemical symbols with numerical subscripts. Many chemical compounds have a unique CAS number identifier assigned by the Chemical Abstracts Service. Globally, more than 350,000 chemical compounds (including mixtures of chemicals) have been registered for production and use. [1]

History of the concept

Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle Portret van Robert Boyle, RP-P-OB-4578 (cropped).jpg
Robert Boyle
Title page of The Sceptical Chymist Sceptical chymist 1661 Boyle Title page AQ18 (3).jpg
Title page of The Sceptical Chymist

The term "compound"—with a meaning similar to the modern—has been used at least since 1661 when Robert Boyle's The Sceptical Chymist was published. In this book, Boyle variously used the terms "compound", [2] "compounded body", [3] "perfectly mixt body", [4] and "concrete". [5] "Perfectly mixt bodies" included for example gold, [4] lead, [4] mercury, [2] and wine. [6] While the distinction between compound and mixture is not so clear, the distinction between element and compound is a central theme.

Quicksilver ... with Aqua fortis will be brought into a ... white Powder ... with Sulphur it will compose a blood-red and volatile Cinaber. And yet out of all these exotick Compounds, we may recover the very same running Mercury. [7]

Corpuscles of elements and compounds

Boyle used the concept of "corpuscles"—or "atomes", [8] as he also called them—to explain how a limited number of elements could combine into a vast number of compounds:

If we assigne to the Corpuscles, whereof each Element consists, a peculiar size and shape ... such ... Corpuscles may be mingled in such various Proportions, and ... connected so many ... wayes, that an almost incredible number of ... Concretes may be compos’d of them. [5]

Isaac Watts

Portrait of Isaac Watts by John Shury, c. 1830 Portrait of Isaac Watts, D.D..jpg
Portrait of Isaac Watts by John Shury, c.1830

In his Logick , published in 1724, the English minister and logician Isaac Watts gave an early definition of chemical element, and contrasted element with chemical compound in clear, modern terms. [9]

Among Substances, some are called Simple, some are Compound ... Simple Substances ... are usually called Elements, of which all other Bodies are compounded: Elements are such Substances as cannot be resolved, or reduced, into two or more Substances of different Kinds. ... Followers of Aristotle made Fire, Air, Earth and Water to be the four Elements, of which all earthly Things were compounded; and they suppos'd the Heavens to be a Quintessence, or fifth sort of Body, distinct from all these : But, since experimental Philosophy ... have been better understood, this Doctrine has been abundantly refuted. The Chymists make Spirit, Salt, Sulphur, Water and Earth to be their five Elements, because they can reduce all terrestrial Things to these five : This seems to come nearer the Truth ; tho' they are not all agreed ... Compound Substances are made up of two or more simple Substances ... So a Needle is simple Body, being made only of Steel; but a Sword or a Knife is a compound because its ... Handle is made of Materials different from the Blade.


Any substance consisting of two or more different types of atoms (chemical elements) in a fixed stoichiometric proportion can be termed a chemical compound; the concept is most readily understood when considering pure chemical substances. [10] :15 [11] [12] It follows from their being composed of fixed proportions of two or more types of atoms that chemical compounds can be converted, via chemical reaction, into compounds or substances each having fewer atoms. [13] A chemical formula is a way of expressing information about the proportions of atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound, using chemical symbols for the chemical elements, and subscripts to indicate the number of atoms involved. For example, water is composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom: the chemical formula is H2O. In the case of non-stoichiometric compounds, the proportions may be reproducible with regard to their preparation, and give fixed proportions of their component elements, but proportions that are not integral [e.g., for palladium hydride, PdHx (0.02 < x < 0.58)]. [14]

Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure held together in a defined spatial arrangement by chemical bonds. Chemical compounds can be molecular compounds held together by covalent bonds, salts held together by ionic bonds, intermetallic compounds held together by metallic bonds, or the subset of chemical complexes that are held together by coordinate covalent bonds. [15] Pure chemical elements are generally not considered chemical compounds, failing the two or more atom requirement, though they often consist of molecules composed of multiple atoms (such as in the diatomic molecule H2, or the polyatomic molecule S8, etc.). [15] Many chemical compounds have a unique numerical identifier assigned by the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS): its CAS number.

There is varying and sometimes inconsistent nomenclature differentiating substances, which include truly non-stoichiometric examples, from chemical compounds, which require the fixed ratios. Many solid chemical substances—for example many silicate minerals—are chemical substances, but do not have simple formulae reflecting chemically bonding of elements to one another in fixed ratios; even so, these crystalline substances are often called "non-stoichiometric compounds". It may be argued that they are related to, rather than being chemical compounds, insofar as the variability in their compositions is often due to either the presence of foreign elements trapped within the crystal structure of an otherwise known true chemical compound, or due to perturbations in structure relative to the known compound that arise because of an excess of deficit of the constituent elements at places in its structure; such non-stoichiometric substances form most of the crust and mantle of the Earth. Other compounds regarded as chemically identical may have varying amounts of heavy or light isotopes of the constituent elements, which changes the ratio of elements by mass slightly.



A molecule is an electrically neutral group of two or more atoms held together by chemical bonds. [16] [17] [18] A molecule may be homonuclear, that is, it consists of atoms of one chemical element, as with two atoms in the oxygen molecule (O2); or it may be heteronuclear, a chemical compound composed of more than one element, as with water (two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom; H2O). A molecule is the smallest unit of a substance that still carries all the physical and chemical properties of that substance. [19]

Ionic compounds

An ionic compound is a chemical compound composed of ions held together by electrostatic forces termed ionic bonding. The compound is neutral overall, but consists of positively charged ions called cations and negatively charged ions called anions. These can be simple ions such as the sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl) in sodium chloride, or polyatomic species such as the ammonium (NH+
) and carbonate (CO2−
) ions in ammonium carbonate. Individual ions within an ionic compound usually have multiple nearest neighbours, so are not considered to be part of molecules, but instead part of a continuous three-dimensional network, usually in a crystalline structure.

Ionic compounds containing basic ions hydroxide (OH) or oxide (O2−) are classified as bases. Ionic compounds without these ions are also known as salts and can be formed by acid–base reactions. Ionic compounds can also be produced from their constituent ions by evaporation of their solvent, precipitation, freezing, a solid-state reaction, or the electron transfer reaction of reactive metals with reactive non-metals, such as halogen gases.

Ionic compounds typically have high melting and boiling points, and are hard and brittle. As solids they are almost always electrically insulating, but when melted or dissolved they become highly conductive, because the ions are mobilized.

Intermetallic compounds

An intermetallic compound is a type of metallic alloy that forms an ordered solid-state compound between two or more metallic elements. Intermetallics are generally hard and brittle, with good high-temperature mechanical properties. [20] [21] [22] They can be classified as stoichiometric or nonstoichiometric intermetallic compounds. [20]


A coordination complex consists of a central atom or ion, which is usually metallic and is called the coordination centre, and a surrounding array of bound molecules or ions, that are in turn known as ligands or complexing agents. [23] [24] [25] Many metal-containing compounds, especially those of transition metals, are coordination complexes. [26] A coordination complex whose centre is a metal atom is called a metal complex of d block element.

Bonding and forces

Compounds are held together through a variety of different types of bonding and forces. The differences in the types of bonds in compounds differ based on the types of elements present in the compound.

London dispersion forces are the weakest force of all intermolecular forces. They are temporary attractive forces that form when the electrons in two adjacent atoms are positioned so that they create a temporary dipole. Additionally, London dispersion forces are responsible for condensing non polar substances to liquids, and to further freeze to a solid state dependent on how low the temperature of the environment is. [27]

A covalent bond, also known as a molecular bond, involves the sharing of electrons between two atoms. Primarily, this type of bond occurs between elements that fall close to each other on the periodic table of elements, yet it is observed between some metals and nonmetals. This is due to the mechanism of this type of bond. Elements that fall close to each other on the periodic table tend to have similar electronegativities, which means they have a similar affinity for electrons. Since neither element has a stronger affinity to donate or gain electrons, it causes the elements to share electrons so both elements have a more stable octet.

Ionic bonding occurs when valence electrons are completely transferred between elements. Opposite to covalent bonding, this chemical bond creates two oppositely charged ions. The metals in ionic bonding usually lose their valence electrons, becoming a positively charged cation. The nonmetal will gain the electrons from the metal, making the nonmetal a negatively charged anion. As outlined, ionic bonds occur between an electron donor, usually a metal, and an electron acceptor, which tends to be a nonmetal. [28]

Hydrogen bonding occurs when a hydrogen atom bonded to an electronegative atom forms an electrostatic connection with another electronegative atom through interacting dipoles or charges. [29] [30] [31]


A compound can be converted to a different chemical composition by interaction with a second chemical compound via a chemical reaction. In this process, bonds between atoms are broken in both of the interacting compounds, and then bonds are reformed so that new associations are made between atoms. Schematically, this reaction could be described as AB + CD → AD + CB, where A, B, C, and D are each unique atoms; and AB, AD, CD, and CB are each unique compounds.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alkali metal</span> Group of highly reactive chemical elements

The alkali metals consist of the chemical elements lithium (Li), sodium (Na), potassium (K), rubidium (Rb), caesium (Cs), and francium (Fr). Together with hydrogen they constitute group 1, which lies in the s-block of the periodic table. All alkali metals have their outermost electron in an s-orbital: this shared electron configuration results in their having very similar characteristic properties. Indeed, the alkali metals provide the best example of group trends in properties in the periodic table, with elements exhibiting well-characterised homologous behaviour. This family of elements is also known as the lithium family after its leading element.

Chemistry is the scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a physical science within the natural sciences that studies the chemical elements that make up matter and compounds made of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they undergo during reactions with other substances. Chemistry also addresses the nature of chemical bonds in chemical compounds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chemical bond</span> Association of atoms to form chemical compounds

A chemical bond is the association of atoms or ions to form molecules, crystals, and other structures. The bond may result from the electrostatic force between oppositely charged ions as in ionic bonds or through the sharing of electrons as in covalent bonds, or some combination of these effects. Chemical bonds are described has having different strengths: there are "strong bonds" or "primary bonds" such as covalent, ionic and metallic bonds, and "weak bonds" or "secondary bonds" such as dipole–dipole interactions, the London dispersion force, and hydrogen bonding.

In chemistry, a chemical formula is a way of presenting information about the chemical proportions of atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound or molecule, using chemical element symbols, numbers, and sometimes also other symbols, such as parentheses, dashes, brackets, commas and plus (+) and minus (−) signs. These are limited to a single typographic line of symbols, which may include subscripts and superscripts. A chemical formula is not a chemical name since it does not contain any words. Although a chemical formula may imply certain simple chemical structures, it is not the same as a full chemical structural formula. Chemical formulae can fully specify the structure of only the simplest of molecules and chemical substances, and are generally more limited in power than chemical names and structural formulae.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coordination complex</span> Molecule or ion containing ligands datively bonded to a central metallic atom

A coordination complex is a chemical compound consisting of a central atom or ion, which is usually metallic and is called the coordination centre, and a surrounding array of bound molecules or ions, that are in turn known as ligands or complexing agents. Many metal-containing compounds, especially those that include transition metals, are coordination complexes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ionic bonding</span> Chemical bonding involving attraction between ions

Ionic bonding is a type of chemical bonding that involves the electrostatic attraction between oppositely charged ions, or between two atoms with sharply different electronegativities, and is the primary interaction occurring in ionic compounds. It is one of the main types of bonding, along with covalent bonding and metallic bonding. Ions are atoms with an electrostatic charge. Atoms that gain electrons make negatively charged ions. Atoms that lose electrons make positively charged ions. This transfer of electrons is known as electrovalence in contrast to covalence. In the simplest case, the cation is a metal atom and the anion is a nonmetal atom, but these ions can be more complex, e.g. molecular ions like NH+
or SO2−
. In simpler words, an ionic bond results from the transfer of electrons from a metal to a non-metal to obtain a full valence shell for both atoms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Molecule</span> Electrically neutral group of two or more atoms

A molecule is a group of two or more atoms held together by attractive forces known as chemical bonds; depending on context, the term may or may not include ions which satisfy this criterion. In quantum physics, organic chemistry, and biochemistry, the distinction from ions is dropped and molecule is often used when referring to polyatomic ions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metallic bonding</span> Type of chemical bond in metals

Metallic bonding is a type of chemical bonding that arises from the electrostatic attractive force between conduction electrons and positively charged metal ions. It may be described as the sharing of free electrons among a structure of positively charged ions (cations). Metallic bonding accounts for many physical properties of metals, such as strength, ductility, thermal and electrical resistivity and conductivity, opacity, and lustre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Salt (chemistry)</span> Chemical compound involving ionic bonding

In chemistry, a salt or ionic compound is a chemical compound consisting of an ionic assembly of positively charged cations and negatively charged anions, which results in a neutral compound with no net electric charge. The constituent ions are held together by electrostatic forces termed ionic bonds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hydride</span> Molecule with a hydrogen bound to a more electropositive element or group

In chemistry, a hydride is formally the anion of hydrogen (H), a hydrogen atom with two electrons. The term is applied loosely. At one extreme, all compounds containing covalently bound H atoms are called hydrides: water (H2O) is a hydride of oxygen, ammonia is a hydride of nitrogen, etc. For inorganic chemists, hydrides refer to compounds and ions in which hydrogen is covalently attached to a less electronegative element. In such cases, the H centre has nucleophilic character, which contrasts with the protic character of acids. The hydride anion is very rarely observed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Octet rule</span> Chemical rule of thumb

The octet rule is a chemical rule of thumb that reflects the theory that main-group elements tend to bond in such a way that each atom has eight electrons in its valence shell, giving it the same electronic configuration as a noble gas. The rule is especially applicable to carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and the halogens; although more generally the rule is applicable for the s-block and p-block of the periodic table. Other rules exist for other elements, such as the duplet rule for hydrogen and helium, and the 18-electron rule for transition metals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Valence electron</span> An electron in the outer shell of an atoms energy levels

In chemistry and physics, valence electrons are electrons in the outermost shell of an atom, and that can participate in the formation of a chemical bond if the outermost shell is not closed. In a single covalent bond, a shared pair forms with both atoms in the bond each contributing one valence electron.

In chemistry, the valence or valency of an atom is a measure of its combining capacity with other atoms when it forms chemical compounds or molecules. Valence is generally understood to be the number of chemical bonds that each atom of a given chemical element typically forms. Double bonds are considered to be two bonds, triple bonds to be three, quadruple bonds to be four, quintuple bonds to be five and sextuple bonds to be six. In most compounds, the valence of hydrogen is 1, of oxygen is 2, of nitrogen is 3, and of carbon is 4. Valence is not to be confused with the related concepts of the coordination number, the oxidation state, or the number of valence electrons for a given atom.

An intramolecular force is any force that binds together the atoms making up a molecule or compound, not to be confused with intermolecular forces, which are the forces present between molecules. The subtle difference in the name comes from the Latin roots of English with inter meaning between or among and intra meaning inside. Chemical bonds are considered to be intramolecular forces which are often stronger than intermolecular forces present between non-bonding atoms or molecules.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chemical substance</span> Matter of constant chemical composition and properties

A chemical substance is a unique form of matter with constant chemical composition and characteristic properties. Chemical substances may take the form of a single element or chemical compounds. If two or more chemical substances can be combined without reacting, they may form a chemical mixture. If a mixture is separated to isolate one chemical substance to a desired degree, the resulting substance is said to be chemically pure.

This glossary of chemistry terms is a list of terms and definitions relevant to chemistry, including chemical laws, diagrams and formulae, laboratory tools, glassware, and equipment. Chemistry is a physical science concerned with the composition, structure, and properties of matter, as well as the changes it undergoes during chemical reactions; it features an extensive vocabulary and a significant amount of jargon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ion</span> Particle, atom or molecule with a net electrical charge

An ion is an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge. The charge of an electron is considered to be negative by convention and this charge is equal and opposite to the charge of a proton, which is considered to be positive by convention. The net charge of an ion is not zero because its total number of electrons is unequal to its total number of protons.

Solids can be classified according to the nature of the bonding between their atomic or molecular components. The traditional classification distinguishes four kinds of bonding:

Fluorine forms a great variety of chemical compounds, within which it always adopts an oxidation state of −1. With other atoms, fluorine forms either polar covalent bonds or ionic bonds. Most frequently, covalent bonds involving fluorine atoms are single bonds, although at least two examples of a higher order bond exist. Fluoride may act as a bridging ligand between two metals in some complex molecules. Molecules containing fluorine may also exhibit hydrogen bonding. Fluorine's chemistry includes inorganic compounds formed with hydrogen, metals, nonmetals, and even noble gases; as well as a diverse set of organic compounds. For many elements the highest known oxidation state can be achieved in a fluoride. For some elements this is achieved exclusively in a fluoride, for others exclusively in an oxide; and for still others the highest oxidation states of oxides and fluorides are always equal.

Hydrogen compounds are compounds containg the element hydrogen. In these compounds, hydrogen can form in the +1 and -1 oxidation states. Hydrogen can form compounds both ionically and in covalent substances. It is a part of many organic compounds such as hydrocarbons as well as water and other organic substances. The H+ ion is often called a proton because it has one proton and no electrons, although the proton does not move freely. Brønsted–Lowry acids are capable of donating H+ ions to bases.


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