Covalent Bonding:


As we have discussed, molecular compounds are composed of nonmetals and do not contain metals, ions or ionic bonds. Instead, they are held together by what is known as a covalent bond. Lets examine the bonding in the simplest molecule, H2.

Each hydrogen atom has 1 proton and one electron. Hydrogen atoms need two electrons to fill their 1s orbital and become stable. In the diagram, each hydrogen nucleus is attracted to each electron. This mutual attraction is known as a covalent bond. The electrons are described as being shared by the two hydrogen atoms. A shared pair of electrons is called a single covalent bond. In a covalent bond each atom is considered to possess each of the two electrons being shared in the covalent bond. Therefore, each single covalent bond increases the number of valence electrons in each atom by one. Each hydrogen atom in the H2 molecule above is considered to have 2 valence electrons.

Lets consider another example, Cl2. Each chlorine atom has 7 valence electrons, but needs eight to have an octet. In the Cl2 molecule there is one covalent bond or one shared pair of electrons. This bond increases the number of valence electrons for each chlorine atom by one giving them both an octet.

Most molecules are formed from atoms of different elements. For example, in hydrofluoric acid, HF, both atoms need one electron to become stable and will for a single covalent bond. This will give hydrogen 2 valence electrons and fluorine an octet.

Some atoms must form more than one covalent bond to satisfy the octet rule. For example, oxygen has six valence electrons and must form two covalent bonds to achieve and octet. Therefore a hydrogen-oxygen compound will have a 2:1 ratio, H2O.



Here are some other examples of atoms that require several bonds to achieve octets:

Remember, valence electrons are common within a group/family, therefore we can assume elements within a group will bond in the same manner.



When atoms share electrons in H2, each atom is identical and the electrons are shared equally or each nucleus has the same attraction for the electrons. This is described as nonpolar covalent bonding. This will not be true in the hydrofluoric acid molecule, HF.

In this molecule the fluorine atom will have a greater attraction for the shared electrons due to its larger nuclear charge (H is 1+ and F is 9+). This unequal attraction creates a slightly negative area around the fluorine atom and a slightly positive area around the hydrogen atom.

The charge is a fraction of the charge of a proton/electron and is symbolized by the Greek letter sigma, δ. The arrow symbol is called a dipole and points toward the negative area I the molecule. This bond is known as a polar covalent bond because it has a positive and negative pole which can attract or repel other polar molecules.

The ability of an atom to attract electrons in covalent bonds is measured by a unitless number known as electronegativity(EN). The larger the EN value, the greater the atoms attraction for electrons in the bond. EN is a periodic trend and generally increases from the lower left to the upper right part of the table.

Bonds between atoms with the same or very similar EN values will be nonpolar. Bonds with very different EN values will be ionic. In between these extremes is where polar covalent bonding occurs. The greater the EN difference the more polar the bond. For example, H-H < C-H < N-H < O-H < F-H where the FH bond is the most polar and HH is nonpolar.

It will be helpful to remember that bonds involving O,N,F and Cl will usually be polar because they have high EN values and that C-H bonds are generally considered nonpolar.


Covalent Bonding




  1. Explain how covalent bonding is different than ionic bonding.
  2. How many valence electrons do atoms need to become stable? Which elements are exceptions to this rule? Explain.
  3. What does it mean for atoms to share electrons?
  4. Explain how a hydrogen atom becomes stable by forming a covalent bond. How is this different for a chlorine atom?
  5. How many covalent bonds must a halogen atom in group 17 form in order to achieve an octet. Explain.
  6. How many covalent bonds must an atom in group 16 form in order to achieve an octet. Explain.
  7. How many covalent bonds must an atom in group 15 form in order to achieve an octet. Explain.
  8. Predict the formula for a molecular compound made up of hydrogen and phosphorus.
  9. Predict the formulas for a molecular compound made up of hydrogen and sulfur.
  10. Predict the formulas for a molecular compound made up of hydrogen and silicon.
  11. What is meant when a covalent bond is described as polar?
  12. Identify the following bonds a polar or nonpolar:
    1. CC b. CH c. OI d. OO e. HS
  13. Order each of the following sets of bonds by increasing polarity.
    1. HH, CH, OC, CN, FS
    2. SiC, SeN, SiS, SeCl
    3. BrCl, BrO, BrC, BrF
    4. PF, PCl, PO, PC


Write formulas for the following compounds:


1. Dinitrogen pentoxide 2. Sulfurous acid

3. Ammonium dichromate 4. Octane

5. Copper (II) nitrate 6. Methane

7. Sulfur trioxide 8. Hydrophosphoric acid

9. Hydrosulfuric acid 10. Aluminum sulfate

11. Nitric acid 12. Sodium bicarbonate

13. Hexane 14. Potassium thiosulfate

15. Bromic Acid 16. Carbonic Acid

17. Tetraphosphorus hexoxide 18. Silicon Dioxide

19. Hypochlorous acid 20. Perchloric acid


Name the following compounds:

1. HNO2 2. KOH 3. H2SO4 4. HCl 5. SiCl4

6. XeF2 7. NH4SCN 8. Co(SCN)3 9. AgCN 10. C7H16