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Difference Between Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds

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Last updated date: 09th Apr 2024
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What is Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds?

Chemical compounds are substances that are formed when two or more different elements chemically combine with each other. They are made up of molecules or ions that are held together by chemical bonds. These compounds have specific chemical and physical properties that are different from the properties of the individual elements that make them up. Chemical compounds can be classified into different types based on the nature of the chemical bonds they form. 


Ionic compounds and covalent compounds are two types of chemical compounds that differ in their bonding nature and properties.


Ionic Compound

Ionic compounds consist of ions held together by electrostatic forces of attraction. These compounds are formed through the complete transfer of electrons from one atom to another. The atom that undergoes electron loss transforms into a cation, which is a positively charged ion, whereas the atom that acquires electrons becomes an anion, which is a negatively charged ion. The resulting oppositely charged ions are attracted to each other and form an ionic compound.


Covalent Compound

Covalent compounds are formed through the sharing of electrons between atoms. In these compounds, atoms with similar electronegativity values bond together by sharing one or more pairs of electrons. This shared electron pair forms a covalent bond, which holds the atoms together in a molecule. Covalent compounds can further be classified into nonpolar covalent compounds and polar covalent compounds based on the electronegativity difference between the atoms involved.

Formation of Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds

Formation of Ionic Compounds

Ionic compounds are formed when there is a significant difference in electronegativity between the atoms involved. The atom with higher electronegativity attracts the valence electrons of the other atom more strongly, causing a complete transfer of electrons. This transfer results in the formation of cations and anions, which are held together by the electrostatic forces of attraction, forming an ionic compound.


Example: Commonly known as table salt, sodium chloride is an ionic compound formed by the transfer of an electron from sodium (Na) to chlorine (Cl). It consists of sodium cations (Na+) and chloride anions (Cl-) held together by electrostatic forces.


Formation of Covalent Compounds

Covalent compounds are formed when atoms with similar electronegativity values share electrons to achieve a more stable electron configuration. The shared electrons occupy the outermost energy levels (valence shells) of the atoms, resulting in the formation of a stable electron configuration for both atoms. This shared electron pair forms a covalent bond, which holds the atoms together in a molecule.


Example: Water is a covalent compound composed of two hydrogen atoms (H) and one oxygen atom (O). The hydrogen atoms share their electrons with the oxygen atom, forming covalent bonds and resulting in the formation of a water molecule.


Characteristics of Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds

The characteristics of Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds is given as:


Ionic Compounds:

  • Ionic compounds are typically composed of a metal cation and a nonmetal anion.

  • They have high melting and boiling points due to strong electrostatic forces between ions. 

  • Polar solvents, such as water, typically have the ability to dissolve ionic compounds.

  • They can conduct electricity when dissolved in water or in a molten state due to the movement of ions. 

  • Ionic compounds often form a three-dimensional crystal lattice structure.


Covalent Compounds:

  • Typically, covalent compounds consist of nonmetal atoms. 

  • Unlike ionic compounds, they generally have lower melting and boiling points.

  • Covalent compounds often exhibit solubility in nonpolar solvents.

  • They do not conduct electricity in any state since they lack freely moving charged particles. 

  • The strength of covalent bonds can vary depending on factors such as bond length and bond energy.


Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds Difference

Sr. No.

Characteristics

Ionic Compounds

Covalent Compounds


Electron Behavior

Electrons are transferred from one atom to another, forming ions.

Electrons are shared between atoms.


Bond Type


Ionic bonds, resulting in the formation of oppositely charged ions.

Covalent bonds, forming a shared electron cloud.


Solubility

Tend to be soluble in polar solvents like water.

Often soluble in nonpolar solvents.


Melting and Boiling Points

Higher melting and boiling points due to strong electrostatic forces.

Lower melting and boiling points compared to ionic compounds.


Electron Configuration

Achieves a noble gas electron configuration by transferring electrons

Achieves a stable electron configuration by sharing electrons



Strength

Generally stronger than covalent bonds

Can vary in strength


Conductivity

Can conduct electricity when dissolved in water or in a molten state.

Generally poor conductors of electricity.


Examples

Sodium chloride (NaCl), Calcium oxide (CaO)

Water (H2O), Methane (CH4)


Applications

Medicine, Construction Materials, Fertilizers

Organic Chemistry, Electronics and Semiconductors, Polymers and Plastics



Summary

Ionic compounds and covalent compounds are two distinct types of chemical compounds. Ionic compounds are formed by the transfer of electrons from one atom to another, resulting in the formation of oppositely charged ions that are held together by strong electrostatic forces. They typically occur between atoms with a significant difference in electronegativity. Covalent compounds, on the other hand, are formed by the sharing of electrons between atoms, resulting in the creation of a shared electron cloud that holds the atoms together. Covalent compounds usually occur between atoms with similar electronegativity.

FAQs on Difference Between Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds

1. How do Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds Differ?

The main difference between ionic compounds and covalent compounds lies in the behavior of electrons. Ionic compounds involve the complete transfer of electrons, resulting in the formation of ions. In contrast, covalent compounds involve the sharing of electrons between atoms. Additionally, ionic compounds generally have higher melting and boiling points, are often soluble in polar solvents, and can conduct electricity when dissolved or in a molten state. Covalent compounds, on the other hand, usually have lower melting and boiling points, are often soluble in nonpolar solvents, and are generally poor conductors of electricity.

2. What are Some Examples of Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds?

Examples of ionic compounds include sodium chloride (NaCl), magnesium oxide (MgO), and potassium nitrate (KNO3). 


Covalent compounds include water (H2O), methane (CH4), and carbon dioxide (CO2). 

The choice between ionic and covalent bonding depends on the electronegativity difference between the atoms involved in the compound.

3. State Three Differences Between Ionic Compounds and Covalent Compounds.

Three differences between ionic compounds and covalent compounds are: 


1. Electron Behavior: In ionic compounds, electrons are transferred completely from one atom to another, resulting in the formation of ions. In contrast, covalent compounds involve the sharing of electrons between atoms. 


2. Solubility: Ionic compounds tend to be more soluble in polar solvents, such as water, due to the attraction between ions and polar molecules. Covalent compounds, on the other hand, are often more soluble in nonpolar solvents since their molecules do not have significant polarity. 


3. Conductivity: Ionic compounds can conduct electricity when dissolved in water or in a molten state due to the presence of freely moving ions. In contrast, covalent compounds are generally poor conductors of electricity since they do not dissociate into ions and lack freely mobile charged particles.