Core Concepts

Formal charge is an essential, basic concept to grasp in order to much better understand molecular structures and reactions. In this tutorial, girlfriend will discover what is formal charge, how to calculate it, and its significance in practice.

You are watching: What is the formal charge of nitrogen in this structure?

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Ion: one atom or molecule through a net ionic charge, due to the visibility or absence of electrons.Molecule: a group of atom bonded togetherResonance: a term supplied to define the hybrid bonding in a molecule through multiple possible structures.

What is official Charge?

Formal Charge is a charge assigned come an atom under the assumption that every electrons in bonds are shared equally. This is a theoretical measure, no a real representation the the actual fee on an atom, i beg your pardon looks at the ways electrons are actually shared in between atoms in a bond. But an ext on the later!

How come Calculate:

Formal charge (FC) = (# of valence electrons) – (½)(number of bonded electrons) – (number of unbonded electrons)



NH3: what is the formal fee on the nitrogen?

Nitrogen has actually 5 valence electrons, 6 bonded electrons (as there room 3 solitary bonds, each containing 2 electrons), and 2 unbonded electrons in this configuration. Thus:

FC = (5) – (½)(6) – (2)FC = 0


CH3O: what is the formal fee on the carbon?

Carbon has 4 valence electrons, 8 external inspection electrons (two solitary bonds and one dual bond), and no unbonded electrons. Thus:

FC = (4) – (½)(8) – 0FC = 0

Note: though the formal charge in these two examples has been zero, that will not constantly be the case. Us will explore some instances of nonzero fee below.


1. Molecule Structure

Ideally, an atom in a molecule desires to have a formal fee of zero: this is the lowest energy, and also thus the many stable state because that it to be in. This clues us into the framework of a molecule if there space multiple options: the one v the least/lowest formal charges is the wanted structure. There are even certain guidelines to help you figure this out:

The preferred molecular structure is one wherein all formal charges room zero, as opposed come one wherein some official charges are not zero.If there is no possible structure whereby all formal charges space zero, climate the preferred structure is one v the least number of nonzero charges.Adjacent atoms in a molecule should have actually opposite signs if charges room present.If there room multiple frameworks that satisfy requirements 1-3, climate the structure with an unfavorable formal fees on the an ext electronegative atom is preferred.

Example: shown listed below are three possible structures because that N2O. Let’s figure out which structure is correct.


The optimal structure:First, we calculate the formal fee of the nitrogen ~ above the left. Nitrogen has 5 valence electrons, this atom has 6 external inspection electrons (a triple bond), and also 2 unbonded electrons, hence the formal fee is (5) – (½)(6) – (2) = 0. Next, us calculate the formal charge of the nitrogen in the middle. This one has actually 8 external inspection electrons and no unbonded, therefore the formal fee is (5) – (½)(8) – (0) = +1. Finally, us calculate the formal charge of the oxygen. Oxygen has actually 6 valence electrons, and also this atom has 2 external inspection electrons and 6 unbonded, thus the formal charge is (6) – (½)(2) – (6) = -1.The middle structure:Similarly, us calculate the formal fee of the nitrogen ~ above the left: (5) – (½)(4) – (4) = -1.Next, the formal charge of the nitrogen in the middle: (5) – (½)(8) – (0) = +1.Finally, the formal charge of the oxygen: (6) – (½)(4) – (4) = 0. The bottom structure: Again, first we calculate the formal charge of the nitrogen top top the left: (5) – (½)(2) – (6) = -2.Next, the formal fee of the nitrogen in the middle: (5) – (½)(8) – (0) = +1. Finally, the formal charge of the oxygen: (6) – (½)(6) – (2) = +1.

Given this calculated official charges, let’s top the guidelines discussed above. First, room there any structures possible where every the officially charges room zero? There space not, for this reason we move on to rule #2. This eliminates the bottom structure, as it has actually a greater variety of nonzero charges 보다 the top two (it also has higher charges, together it includes a -2 charge, conversely, the other two just contain +/-1). Both the top and middle structures have adjacent atoms with opposite charges, so both satisfy rule #3. This leaves dominion #4, definition the desired structure is the one with the an unfavorable charge ~ above the more electronegative atom. Oxygen is an ext electronegative 보다 nitrogen, definition the wanted structure is the one through a an adverse charge on the oxygen—the height structure!

It is likewise worth noting the the sum of every the formal charges the the atoms in a molecule need to equal the all at once charge top top the molecule/ion. That is, they need to sum approximately zero if its one neutral molecule, and should amount up come the ion’s fee if that is not.

Example: the ion BH4– has an all at once charge of -1. This means that the official charges of every the individual atom in it should include up to -1. Let’s see if this is true.


Boron has three valence electrons, eight bonded electrons, and zero unbonded electrons. This renders its official charge: (3) – (½)(8) – (0) = -1.

The four hydrogens in this molecule space all identical, therefore we deserve to calculate all of their officially charges at once. Hydrogen has one valence electron, 2 bonded electrons, and also zero unbonded electrons. This provides its formal charge: (1) – (½)(2) – (0) = 0.

As we have the right to see, the formal charges add up come 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + (-1) = -1. This sum does equal the overall charge top top the ion, i m sorry is -1.

2. Resonance

While official charge can indicate the desired structure of a molecule, as questioned above, the instance gets a little more complex when there are multiple equally preferred structures. This instance may indicate resonance structures, specifically when the structures have actually the same arrangement of atoms, but different types of or plan of bonds.

Example: the diagram listed below shows three feasible structures because that the ion CO32-. We have the right to see the the setup of atom is the same in every three frameworks (with the carbon in the center, associated to the three oxygens), yet the location of the dual bond differs in every of the three.


In each of them, the formal charge on the center carbon is 0, the twin bonded oxygen is 0, and the two single bonded oxygens space each -1. See if you deserve to calculate these yourself correctly! keep in mind that as discussed above, 0 + 0 + (-1) + (-1) adds approximately -2, i m sorry is the in its entirety charge on the ion.

Since these bonds space the very same in all three structures, their placement in the molecule is just different, the officially charges and distributions of that in every structure space the specific same, meaning that each of castle is equally likely to occur. This means that all three are correct structures, and in reality, the molecule develops a hybrid of all 3 structures.

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Read an ext about resonance structures here, and also see more examples here!

3. Reactivity

Finally, the formal fee can give an indication regarding how a molecule will certainly behave during a reaction. If an atom has actually a an adverse formal charge, the is more likely to it is in the resource of electrons in a reaction (a nucleophile). Vice versa, if it has a optimistic one, climate it is more likely to be accept electrons (an electrophile), and that atom especially is most most likely to it is in the website of the reaction.

Formal fee vs. Yes, really Charge

It is likewise important to not that formal charge is different from the actual fee of one atom. Formal fee does not take electronegativity right into mind: the assumes the electrons in a shortcut are common equally. It’s merely a formality, provided to help make sense of molecular structures and reaction mechanisms. Really charge, on the other hand, looks at the yes, really electron density, based on the atoms’ electronegativities and polarity the the bonds. To read an ext on this topics, check out this tutorials on: ion-dipole forces, regular trends, and also polarity!