General Chemistry/Electronegativity

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What determines the type of bond formed between two elements? There are two ways of classifying elements to determine the bond formed: by electronegativity, or by metallic/non-metallic character.


Electronegativity is a property of atoms that is reflected in the layout of the periodic table of the elements. Electronegativity is greatest in the elements in the upper right of the table (e.g., fluorine), and lowest in the lower left (e.g., francium).

Electronegativity is a relative measure of how strongly an atom will attract the electrons in a bond. Although bonds are the result of atoms sharing their electrons, the electrons can be shared unequally. The more electronegative atom in a bond will have a slight negative charge, and the less electronegative atom will have a slight positive charge. Overall, the molecule may have no charge, but the individual atoms will. This is a result of the electronegativity—by attracting the electrons in a bond, an atom gains a slight negative charge. Of course, if two elements have equal electronegativity, they will share the electrons equally.

Linus Pauling created a commonly-used measure of electronegativity.

Metallic elements have low electronegativity, and non-metallic elements have high electronegativity. If two elements are close to each other on the periodic table, they will have similar electronegativities.

Electronegativity is measured on a variety of scales, the most common being the Pauling scale. Created by chemist Linus Pauling, it assigns 4.0 to fluorine (the highest) and 0.7 to francium (the lowest).


When drawing diagrams of bonds, we indicate covalent bonds with a line. We may write the electronegativity using the symbols and . Look at this example.

Hydrogen fluoride (HF):

The plus goes over the less electronegative atom. From the above diagram, we can see that the fluorine attracts the electrons in the covalent bond more than the hydrogen does. Fluorine will have a slight negative charge because of this, and hydrogen will have a slight positive charge. Overall, hydrogen fluoride is neutral.