Tetravalency of Carbon

Carbon is found in abundance in nature. It is a part of all living things and quite a few non-living things as well. It is so amazing that an element can be so versatile. Dark black coal is made up of carbon and another substance with opposite properties- Diamond – a shining, non-combustible substance is also composed of carbon! Thus, it can be glittering and hard, soft and flaky, combustible and non-combustible and even can look like a soccer ball. You will be amazed to know that nearly 20% of your body is carbon. All organic substances in nature, living things or non-living organic things are composed of carbon. This is the reason carbon is the 4th most abundant element in the universe by mass. 

Antoine Lavoisier was the first scientist who listed carbon as an element in his textbook –“Traite Elementaire de Chimie” . Through his experiment he showed that diamond is basically made of carbon. The word carbon is derived from the Latin word “carbo'' which means coal. 

Carbon is placed in the 2nd period and 14th group of the periodic table. It is represented by the symbol C and its atomic number is 6. It possesses properties such as tetravalency and catenation, due to this it can for long chain and ring compounds. In this article we will discuss tetravalency of carbon in detail. 

Tetravalency of Carbon 

As carbon possesses atomic number 6, it means that carbon atom has a total of 6 electrons. In simple ways its electronic configuration can be written as 2,4. It means it has 4 electrons in the outermost shell. Carbon obeys the octet rule and forms 4 covalent bonds with other atoms to get a stable electronic configuration. Thus, carbon is tetravalent (It means valency of carbon is 4.) and can form 4 covalent bonds with not only other atoms but other carbon atoms as well. This is called tetravalency of carbon. It is a unique property of carbon as it forms very strong covalent bonds which makes carbon compounds exceptionally stable in nature. The ability of carbon to form covalent bonds with other carbon atoms is called catenation. Due to this property carbon can form long straight, branched and cyclic chains. Carbon can form single, double and triple covalent bonds with other carbon atoms. 

If you see electronic configuration of carbon atom in detail then you will find that at ground state electronic configuration of carbon is – 1s2, 2s2, 2p2 

Carbon at Ground State (Electronic Configuration) -

Above electronic configuration of carbon shows that carbon has only 2 unpaired electrons. So, it can only form 2 bonds in its ground state. Although we know carbon forms 4 covalent bonds. Here the concept of excited state comes. When carbon atom gets excited it shows following electronic configuration – 1s2, 2s1, 2p3

Carbon in Excited State (Electronic Configuration) –

Now as we can see above that carbon has 4 unpaired electrons in its excited state so it can form 4 covalent bonds with other atoms and this property of carbon is called tetravalency of carbon. 

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