Chemistry X | Carbon and its Compounds | BONDING IN CARBON – THE COVALENT BOND


In the previous Chapter, we have studied the properties of ionic compounds. We saw that ionic compounds have high melting and boiling points and conduct electricity in solution or in the molten state. We also saw how the nature of bonding in ionic compounds explains these properties. Let us now study the properties of some carbon compounds. Melting and boiling points of some carbon compounds are given in Table 4.1.


Most carbon compounds are poor conductors of electricity as we have seen in Chapter 2. From the data on the boiling and melting points of the above compounds, we can conclude that the forces of attraction between these molecules are not very strong. Since these compounds are largely nonconductors of electricity, we can conclude that the bonding in these compounds does not give rise to any ions.

In Class IX, we learnt about the combining capacity of various elements and how it depends on the number of valence electrons. Let us now look at the electronic configuration of carbon. The atomic number of carbon is 6. What would be the distribution of electrons in various shells for carbon? How many valence electrons will carbon have?

We know that the reactivity of elements is explained as their tendency to attain a completely filled outer shell, that is, attain noble gas configuration. Elements forming ionic compounds achieve this by either gaining or losing electrons from the outermost shell. In the case of carbon, it has four electrons in its outermost shell and needs to gain or lose four electrons to attain noble gas configuration. If it were to gain or lose electrons –

  1. It could gain four electrons forming C4– anion. But it would be difficult for the nucleus with six protons to hold on to ten electrons, that is, four extra electrons.
  2. It could lose four electrons forming C4+ cation. But it would require a large amount of energy to remove four electrons leaving behind a carbon cation with six protons in its nucleus holding on to just two electrons.

Carbon overcomes this problem by sharing its valence electrons with other atoms of carbon or with atoms of other elements. Not just carbon, but many other elements form molecules by sharing electrons in this manner. The shared electrons ‘belong’ to the outer shells of both the atoms and lead to both atoms attaining the noble gas configuration. Before going on to compounds of carbon, let us look at some simple molecules formed by the sharing of valence electrons.

The simplest molecule formed in this manner is that of hydrogen. As you have learnt earlier, the atomic number of hydrogen is 1. Hence hydrogen has one electron in its K shell and it requires one more electron to fill the K shell. So two hydrogen atoms share their electrons to form a molecule of hydrogen, H2. This allows each hydrogen atom to attain the electronic configuration of the nearest noble gas, helium, which has two electrons in its K shell. We can depict this using dots or crosses to represent valence electrons (Fig. 4.1).

The shared pair of electrons is said to constitute a single bond between the two hydrogen atoms. A single

bond is also represented by a line between the two atoms, as shown in Fig. 4.2.


The atomic number of chlorine is 17. What would be its electronic configuration and its valency? Chlorine forms a diatomic molecule, Cl2. Can you draw the electron dot structure for this molecule? Note that only the valence shell electrons need to be depicted.

In the case of oxygen, we see the formation of a double bond between two oxygen atoms. This is because an atom of oxygen has six electrons in its L shell (the atomic number of oxygen is eight) and it requires two more electrons to complete its octet. So each atom of oxygen shares two electrons with another atom of oxygen to give us the structure shown in Fig. 4.3. The two electrons contributed by each oxygen atom give rise to two shared pairs of electrons. This is said to constitute a double bond between the two atoms.


Can you now depict a molecule of water showing the nature of bonding between one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms? Does the molecule have single bonds or double bonds?

What would happen in the case of a diatomic molecule of nitrogen? Nitrogen has the atomic number 7. What would be its electronic configuration and its combining capacity? In order to attain an octet, each nitrogen atom in a molecule of nitrogen contributes three electrons giving rise to three shared pairs of electrons. This is said to constitute a triple bond between the two atoms. The electron dot structure of N2 and its triple bond can be depicted as in Fig. 4.4.


A molecule of ammonia has the formula NH3. Can you draw the electron dot structure for this molecule showing how all four atoms achieve noble gas configuration? Will the molecule have single, double or triple bonds?

Let us now take a look at methane, which is a compound of carbon. Methane is widely used as a fuel and is a major component of bio-gas and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). It is also one of the simplest compounds formed by carbon. Methane has a formula CH4. Hydrogen, as you know, has a valency of 1. Carbon is tetravalent because it has four valence electrons. In order to achieve noble gas configuration, carbon shares these electrons with four atoms of hydrogen as shown in Fig. 4.5.


Such bonds which are formed by the sharing of an electron pair between two atoms are known as covalent bonds. Covalently bonded molecules are seen to have strong bonds within the molecule, but intermolecular forces are small. This gives rise to the low melting and boiling points of these compounds. Since the electrons are shared between atoms and no charged particles are formed, such covalent compounds are generally poor conductors of electricity.

Allotropes of carbon

The element carbon occurs in different forms in nature with widely varying physical properties. Both diamond and graphite are formed by carbon atoms, the difference lies in the manner in which the carbon atoms are bonded to one another. In diamond, each carbon atom is bonded to four other carbon atoms forming a rigid three-dimensional structure. In graphite, each carbon atom is bonded to three other carbon atoms in the same plane giving a hexagonal array. One of these bonds is a double-bond, and thus the valency of carbon is satisfied. Graphite structure is formed by the hexagonal arrays being placed in layers one above the other.


These two different structures result in diamond and graphite having very different physical properties even though their chemical properties are the same. Diamond is the hardest substance known while graphite is smooth and slippery. Graphite is also a very good conductor of electricity unlike other non-metals that you studied in the previous Chapter.

Diamonds can be synthesised by subjecting pure carbon to very high pressure and temperature. These synthetic diamonds are small but are otherwise indistinguishable from natural diamonds.

Fullerenes form another class of carbon allotropes. The first one to be identified was C-60 which has carbon atoms arranged in the shape of a football. Since this looked like the geodesic dome designed by the US architect Buckminster Fuller, the molecule was named fullerene.


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