Skip to Content
OpenStax Logo
Chemistry 2e

2.4 Chemical Formulas

Chemistry 2e2.4 Chemical Formulas
Buy book
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Essential Ideas
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 Chemistry in Context
    3. 1.2 Phases and Classification of Matter
    4. 1.3 Physical and Chemical Properties
    5. 1.4 Measurements
    6. 1.5 Measurement Uncertainty, Accuracy, and Precision
    7. 1.6 Mathematical Treatment of Measurement Results
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  3. 2 Atoms, Molecules, and Ions
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Early Ideas in Atomic Theory
    3. 2.2 Evolution of Atomic Theory
    4. 2.3 Atomic Structure and Symbolism
    5. 2.4 Chemical Formulas
    6. 2.5 The Periodic Table
    7. 2.6 Molecular and Ionic Compounds
    8. 2.7 Chemical Nomenclature
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  4. 3 Composition of Substances and Solutions
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 Formula Mass and the Mole Concept
    3. 3.2 Determining Empirical and Molecular Formulas
    4. 3.3 Molarity
    5. 3.4 Other Units for Solution Concentrations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  5. 4 Stoichiometry of Chemical Reactions
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 Writing and Balancing Chemical Equations
    3. 4.2 Classifying Chemical Reactions
    4. 4.3 Reaction Stoichiometry
    5. 4.4 Reaction Yields
    6. 4.5 Quantitative Chemical Analysis
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  6. 5 Thermochemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Energy Basics
    3. 5.2 Calorimetry
    4. 5.3 Enthalpy
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Equations
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  7. 6 Electronic Structure and Periodic Properties of Elements
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 Electromagnetic Energy
    3. 6.2 The Bohr Model
    4. 6.3 Development of Quantum Theory
    5. 6.4 Electronic Structure of Atoms (Electron Configurations)
    6. 6.5 Periodic Variations in Element Properties
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  8. 7 Chemical Bonding and Molecular Geometry
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Ionic Bonding
    3. 7.2 Covalent Bonding
    4. 7.3 Lewis Symbols and Structures
    5. 7.4 Formal Charges and Resonance
    6. 7.5 Strengths of Ionic and Covalent Bonds
    7. 7.6 Molecular Structure and Polarity
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  9. 8 Advanced Theories of Covalent Bonding
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Valence Bond Theory
    3. 8.2 Hybrid Atomic Orbitals
    4. 8.3 Multiple Bonds
    5. 8.4 Molecular Orbital Theory
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  10. 9 Gases
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Gas Pressure
    3. 9.2 Relating Pressure, Volume, Amount, and Temperature: The Ideal Gas Law
    4. 9.3 Stoichiometry of Gaseous Substances, Mixtures, and Reactions
    5. 9.4 Effusion and Diffusion of Gases
    6. 9.5 The Kinetic-Molecular Theory
    7. 9.6 Non-Ideal Gas Behavior
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  11. 10 Liquids and Solids
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 Intermolecular Forces
    3. 10.2 Properties of Liquids
    4. 10.3 Phase Transitions
    5. 10.4 Phase Diagrams
    6. 10.5 The Solid State of Matter
    7. 10.6 Lattice Structures in Crystalline Solids
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  12. 11 Solutions and Colloids
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 The Dissolution Process
    3. 11.2 Electrolytes
    4. 11.3 Solubility
    5. 11.4 Colligative Properties
    6. 11.5 Colloids
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  13. 12 Kinetics
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 Chemical Reaction Rates
    3. 12.2 Factors Affecting Reaction Rates
    4. 12.3 Rate Laws
    5. 12.4 Integrated Rate Laws
    6. 12.5 Collision Theory
    7. 12.6 Reaction Mechanisms
    8. 12.7 Catalysis
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  14. 13 Fundamental Equilibrium Concepts
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 Chemical Equilibria
    3. 13.2 Equilibrium Constants
    4. 13.3 Shifting Equilibria: Le Châtelier’s Principle
    5. 13.4 Equilibrium Calculations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  15. 14 Acid-Base Equilibria
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 Brønsted-Lowry Acids and Bases
    3. 14.2 pH and pOH
    4. 14.3 Relative Strengths of Acids and Bases
    5. 14.4 Hydrolysis of Salts
    6. 14.5 Polyprotic Acids
    7. 14.6 Buffers
    8. 14.7 Acid-Base Titrations
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  16. 15 Equilibria of Other Reaction Classes
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 Precipitation and Dissolution
    3. 15.2 Lewis Acids and Bases
    4. 15.3 Coupled Equilibria
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Equations
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  17. 16 Thermodynamics
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Spontaneity
    3. 16.2 Entropy
    4. 16.3 The Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics
    5. 16.4 Free Energy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  18. 17 Electrochemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 Review of Redox Chemistry
    3. 17.2 Galvanic Cells
    4. 17.3 Electrode and Cell Potentials
    5. 17.4 Potential, Free Energy, and Equilibrium
    6. 17.5 Batteries and Fuel Cells
    7. 17.6 Corrosion
    8. 17.7 Electrolysis
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  19. 18 Representative Metals, Metalloids, and Nonmetals
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Periodicity
    3. 18.2 Occurrence and Preparation of the Representative Metals
    4. 18.3 Structure and General Properties of the Metalloids
    5. 18.4 Structure and General Properties of the Nonmetals
    6. 18.5 Occurrence, Preparation, and Compounds of Hydrogen
    7. 18.6 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Carbonates
    8. 18.7 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Nitrogen
    9. 18.8 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Phosphorus
    10. 18.9 Occurrence, Preparation, and Compounds of Oxygen
    11. 18.10 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Sulfur
    12. 18.11 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Halogens
    13. 18.12 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of the Noble Gases
    14. Key Terms
    15. Summary
    16. Exercises
  20. 19 Transition Metals and Coordination Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Transition Metals and Their Compounds
    3. 19.2 Coordination Chemistry of Transition Metals
    4. 19.3 Spectroscopic and Magnetic Properties of Coordination Compounds
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Exercises
  21. 20 Organic Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Hydrocarbons
    3. 20.2 Alcohols and Ethers
    4. 20.3 Aldehydes, Ketones, Carboxylic Acids, and Esters
    5. 20.4 Amines and Amides
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  22. 21 Nuclear Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 21.1 Nuclear Structure and Stability
    3. 21.2 Nuclear Equations
    4. 21.3 Radioactive Decay
    5. 21.4 Transmutation and Nuclear Energy
    6. 21.5 Uses of Radioisotopes
    7. 21.6 Biological Effects of Radiation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  23. A | The Periodic Table
  24. B | Essential Mathematics
  25. C | Units and Conversion Factors
  26. D | Fundamental Physical Constants
  27. E | Water Properties
  28. F | Composition of Commercial Acids and Bases
  29. G | Standard Thermodynamic Properties for Selected Substances
  30. H | Ionization Constants of Weak Acids
  31. I | Ionization Constants of Weak Bases
  32. J | Solubility Products
  33. K | Formation Constants for Complex Ions
  34. L | Standard Electrode (Half-Cell) Potentials
  35. M | Half-Lives for Several Radioactive Isotopes
  36. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
  37. Index
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Symbolize the composition of molecules using molecular formulas and empirical formulas
  • Represent the bonding arrangement of atoms within molecules using structural formulas

A molecular formula is a representation of a molecule that uses chemical symbols to indicate the types of atoms followed by subscripts to show the number of atoms of each type in the molecule. (A subscript is used only when more than one atom of a given type is present.) Molecular formulas are also used as abbreviations for the names of compounds.

The structural formula for a compound gives the same information as its molecular formula (the types and numbers of atoms in the molecule) but also shows how the atoms are connected in the molecule. The structural formula for methane contains symbols for one C atom and four H atoms, indicating the number of atoms in the molecule (Figure 2.16). The lines represent bonds that hold the atoms together. (A chemical bond is an attraction between atoms or ions that holds them together in a molecule or a crystal.) We will discuss chemical bonds and see how to predict the arrangement of atoms in a molecule later. For now, simply know that the lines are an indication of how the atoms are connected in a molecule. A ball-and-stick model shows the geometric arrangement of the atoms with atomic sizes not to scale, and a space-filling model shows the relative sizes of the atoms.

Figure A shows C H subscript 4. Figure B shows a carbon atom that is bonded to four hydrogen atoms at right angles: one above, one to the left, one to the right, and one below. Figure C shows a 3-D, ball-and-stick model of the carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms. Figure D shows a space-filling model of a carbon atom with hydrogen atoms partially embedded into the surface of the carbon atom.
Figure 2.16 A methane molecule can be represented as (a) a molecular formula, (b) a structural formula, (c) a ball-and-stick model, and (d) a space-filling model. Carbon and hydrogen atoms are represented by black and white spheres, respectively.

Although many elements consist of discrete, individual atoms, some exist as molecules made up of two or more atoms of the element chemically bonded together. For example, most samples of the elements hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen are composed of molecules that contain two atoms each (called diatomic molecules) and thus have the molecular formulas H2, O2, and N2, respectively. Other elements commonly found as diatomic molecules are fluorine (F2), chlorine (Cl2), bromine (Br2), and iodine (I2). The most common form of the element sulfur is composed of molecules that consist of eight atoms of sulfur; its molecular formula is S8 (Figure 2.17).

Figure A shows eight sulfur atoms, symbolized with the letter S, that are bonded to each other to form an octagon. Figure B shows a 3-D, ball-and-stick model of the arrangement of the sulfur atoms. The shape is clearly not octagonal as it is represented in the structural formula. Figure C is a space-filling model that shows each sulfur atom is partially embedded into the sulfur atom it bonds with.
Figure 2.17 A molecule of sulfur is composed of eight sulfur atoms and is therefore written as S8. It can be represented as (a) a structural formula, (b) a ball-and-stick model, and (c) a space-filling model. Sulfur atoms are represented by yellow spheres.

It is important to note that a subscript following a symbol and a number in front of a symbol do not represent the same thing; for example, H2 and 2H represent distinctly different species. H2 is a molecular formula; it represents a diatomic molecule of hydrogen, consisting of two atoms of the element that are chemically bonded together. The expression 2H, on the other hand, indicates two separate hydrogen atoms that are not combined as a unit. The expression 2H2 represents two molecules of diatomic hydrogen (Figure 2.18).

This figure shows four diagrams. The diagram for H shows a single, white sphere and is labeled one H atom. The diagram for 2 H shows two white spheres that are not bonded together. It is labeled 2 H atoms. The diagram for H subscript 2 shows two white spheres bonded together. It is labeled one H subscript 2 molecule. The diagram for 2 H subscript 2 shows two sets of bonded, white spheres. It is labeled 2 H subscript 2 molecules.
Figure 2.18 The symbols H, 2H, H2, and 2H2 represent very different entities.

Compounds are formed when two or more elements chemically combine, resulting in the formation of bonds. For example, hydrogen and oxygen can react to form water, and sodium and chlorine can react to form table salt. We sometimes describe the composition of these compounds with an empirical formula, which indicates the types of atoms present and the simplest whole-number ratio of the number of atoms (or ions) in the compound. For example, titanium dioxide (used as pigment in white paint and in the thick, white, blocking type of sunscreen) has an empirical formula of TiO2. This identifies the elements titanium (Ti) and oxygen (O) as the constituents of titanium dioxide, and indicates the presence of twice as many atoms of the element oxygen as atoms of the element titanium (Figure 2.19).

Figure A shows a photo of a person applying suntan lotion to his or her lower leg. Figure B shows a 3-D ball-and-stick model of the molecule titanium dioxide, which involves a complicated interlocking of many titanium and oxygen atoms. The titanium atoms in the molecule are shown as silver spheres and the oxygen atoms are shown as red spheres. There are twice as many oxygen atoms as titanium atoms in the molecule.
Figure 2.19 (a) The white compound titanium dioxide provides effective protection from the sun. (b) A crystal of titanium dioxide, TiO2, contains titanium and oxygen in a ratio of 1 to 2. The titanium atoms are gray and the oxygen atoms are red. (credit a: modification of work by “osseous”/Flickr)

As discussed previously, we can describe a compound with a molecular formula, in which the subscripts indicate the actual numbers of atoms of each element in a molecule of the compound. In many cases, the molecular formula of a substance is derived from experimental determination of both its empirical formula and its molecular mass (the sum of atomic masses for all atoms composing the molecule). For example, it can be determined experimentally that benzene contains two elements, carbon (C) and hydrogen (H), and that for every carbon atom in benzene, there is one hydrogen atom. Thus, the empirical formula is CH. An experimental determination of the molecular mass reveals that a molecule of benzene contains six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms, so the molecular formula for benzene is C6H6 (Figure 2.20).

Figure A shows that benzene is composed of six carbons shaped like a hexagon. Every other bond between the carbon atoms is a double bond. Each carbon also has a single bonded hydrogen atom. Figure B shows a 3-D, ball-and-stick drawing of benzene. The six carbon atoms are black spheres while the six hydrogen atoms are smaller, white spheres. Figure C is a space-filling model of benzene which shows that most of the interior space is occupied by the carbon atoms. The hydrogen atoms are embedded in the outside surface of the carbon atoms. Figure d shows a small vial filled with benzene which appears to be clear.
Figure 2.20 Benzene, C6H6, is produced during oil refining and has many industrial uses. A benzene molecule can be represented as (a) a structural formula, (b) a ball-and-stick model, and (c) a space-filling model. (d) Benzene is a clear liquid. (credit d: modification of work by Sahar Atwa)

If we know a compound’s formula, we can easily determine the empirical formula. (This is somewhat of an academic exercise; the reverse chronology is generally followed in actual practice.) For example, the molecular formula for acetic acid, the component that gives vinegar its sharp taste, is C2H4O2. This formula indicates that a molecule of acetic acid (Figure 2.21) contains two carbon atoms, four hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The ratio of atoms is 2:4:2. Dividing by the lowest common denominator (2) gives the simplest, whole-number ratio of atoms, 1:2:1, so the empirical formula is CH2O. Note that a molecular formula is always a whole-number multiple of an empirical formula.

Figure A shows a jug of distilled, white vinegar. Figure B shows a structural formula for acetic acid which contains two carbon atoms connected by a single bond. The left carbon atom forms single bonds with three hydrogen atoms. The right carbon atom forms a double bond with an oxygen atom. The right carbon atom also forms a single bond with an oxygen atom. This oxygen forms a single bond with a hydrogen atom. Figure C shows a 3-D ball-and-stick model of acetic acid.
Figure 2.21 (a) Vinegar contains acetic acid, C2H4O2, which has an empirical formula of CH2O. It can be represented as (b) a structural formula and (c) as a ball-and-stick model. (credit a: modification of work by “HomeSpot HQ”/Flickr)

Example 2.6

Empirical and Molecular Formulas Molecules of glucose (blood sugar) contain 6 carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms, and 6 oxygen atoms. What are the molecular and empirical formulas of glucose?

Solution The molecular formula is C6H12O6 because one molecule actually contains 6 C, 12 H, and 6 O atoms. The simplest whole-number ratio of C to H to O atoms in glucose is 1:2:1, so the empirical formula is CH2O.

Check Your Learning A molecule of metaldehyde (a pesticide used for snails and slugs) contains 8 carbon atoms, 16 hydrogen atoms, and 4 oxygen atoms. What are the molecular and empirical formulas of metaldehyde?

Answer:

Molecular formula, C8H16O4; empirical formula, C2H4O

Portrait of a Chemist

Lee Cronin

What is it that chemists do? According to Lee Cronin (Figure 2.22), chemists make very complicated molecules by “chopping up” small molecules and “reverse engineering” them. He wonders if we could “make a really cool universal chemistry set” by what he calls “app-ing” chemistry. Could we “app” chemistry?

In a 2012 TED talk, Lee describes one fascinating possibility: combining a collection of chemical “inks” with a 3D printer capable of fabricating a reaction apparatus (tiny test tubes, beakers, and the like) to fashion a “universal toolkit of chemistry.” This toolkit could be used to create custom-tailored drugs to fight a new superbug or to “print” medicine personally configured to your genetic makeup, environment, and health situation. Says Cronin, “What Apple did for music, I’d like to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs.”2 View his full talk at the TED website.

This is a photo of chemist Lee Cronin.
Figure 2.22 Chemist Lee Cronin has been named one of the UK’s 10 most inspirational scientists. The youngest chair at the University of Glasgow, Lee runs a large research group, collaborates with many scientists worldwide, has published over 250 papers in top scientific journals, and has given more than 150 invited talks. His research focuses on complex chemical systems and their potential to transform technology, but also branches into nanoscience, solar fuels, synthetic biology, and even artificial life and evolution. (credit: image courtesy of Lee Cronin)

It is important to be aware that it may be possible for the same atoms to be arranged in different ways: Compounds with the same molecular formula may have different atom-to-atom bonding and therefore different structures. For example, could there be another compound with the same formula as acetic acid, C2H4O2? And if so, what would be the structure of its molecules?

If you predict that another compound with the formula C2H4O2 could exist, then you demonstrated good chemical insight and are correct. Two C atoms, four H atoms, and two O atoms can also be arranged to form a methyl formate, which is used in manufacturing, as an insecticide, and for quick-drying finishes. Methyl formate molecules have one of the oxygen atoms between the two carbon atoms, differing from the arrangement in acetic acid molecules. Acetic acid and methyl formate are examples of isomers—compounds with the same chemical formula but different molecular structures (Figure 2.23). Note that this small difference in the arrangement of the atoms has a major effect on their respective chemical properties. You would certainly not want to use a solution of methyl formate as a substitute for a solution of acetic acid (vinegar) when you make salad dressing.

Figure A shows a structural diagram of acetic acid, C subscript 2 H subscript 4 O subscript 2. Acetic acid contains two carbon atoms connected by a single bond. The left carbon atom forms single bonds with three hydrogen atoms. The carbon on the right forms a double bond with an oxygen atom. The right carbon atom also forms a single bond to an oxygen atom which forms a single bond with a hydrogen atom. Figure B shows a structural diagram of methyl formate, C subscript 2 H subscript 4 O subscript 2. This molecule contains a carbon atom which forms single bonds with three hydrogen atoms, and a single bond with an oxygen atom. The oxygen atom forms a single bond with another carbon atom which forms a double bond with another oxygen atom and a single bond with a hydrogen atom.
Figure 2.23 Molecules of (a) acetic acid and methyl formate (b) are structural isomers; they have the same formula (C2H4O2) but different structures (and therefore different chemical properties).

Many types of isomers exist (Figure 2.24). Acetic acid and methyl formate are structural isomers, compounds in which the molecules differ in how the atoms are connected to each other. There are also various types of spatial isomers, in which the relative orientations of the atoms in space can be different. For example, the compound carvone (found in caraway seeds, spearmint, and mandarin orange peels) consists of two isomers that are mirror images of each other. S-(+)-carvone smells like caraway, and R-(−)-carvone smells like spearmint.

The top left portion of this 2 row, 4 column figure shows a structural diagram of positive carvone, C subscript 10 H subscript 14 O. This molecule has a carbon atom which forms a double bond with a C H subscript 2 group and a C H subscript 3 group. The carbon atom also forms a single bond with another carbon atom which is part of a ring. This carbon atom, being part of the ring, forms single bonds with a hydrogen atom, a C H subscript 2 group, and a C H subscript 2 group. The first C H subscript two group forms a single bond with C H which forms a double bond with a carbon atom. This carbon atom forms a single bond with a C H subscript 3 group. The carbon atom forming part of the ring forms a single bond with a carbon atom which forms a double bond with an oxygen atom and a single bond with a C H subscript 2 group to complete the ring. Below the structural diagram of carvone is a photo of caraway seeds. Column 2 contains identical ball and stick representations of the structural diagram in the top left position. The top right portions of these images each contains the letter “S” and there is an arrow pointing downward from the top image to the bottom image. Columns 3 and 4 are representations of negative carvone. The top row in column three depicts a mirrored image of the ball and stick structure to its left, reflected across the y axis. There is a downward pointing arrow to the image below, which is the same structure rotated counter clockwise 180 degrees. Both images in column 3 have an “R” in the top right corner. The image in the first row of column 4 is the same as the lewis structure in the first row of column 1, reflected across the y axis. Below this negative carvone structural diagram is a photo of spearmint leaves.
Figure 2.24 Molecules of carvone are spatial isomers; they only differ in the relative orientations of the atoms in space. (credit bottom left: modification of work by “Miansari66”/Wikimedia Commons; credit bottom right: modification of work by Forest & Kim Starr)

Footnotes

  • 2 Lee Cronin, “Print Your Own Medicine,” Talk presented at TED Global 2012, Edinburgh, Scotland, June 2012.
Citation/Attribution

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book is Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e/pages/1-introduction
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e/pages/1-introduction
Citation information

© Feb 14, 2019 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.