Introduction to Bonding


Learning Objective

  • List the types of chemical bonds and their general properties

Key Points

    • Chemical bonds are forces that hold atoms together to make compounds or molecules.
    • Chemical bonds include covalent, polar covalent, and ionic bonds.
    • Atoms with relatively similar electronegativities share electrons between them and are connected by covalent bonds.
    • Atoms with large differences in electronegativity transfer electrons to form ions. The ions then are attracted to each other. This attraction is known as an ionic bond.


  • bondA link or force between neighboring atoms in a molecule or compound.
  • ionic bondAn attraction between two ions used to create an ionic compound. This attraction usually forms between a metal and a non-metal.
  • covalent bondAn interaction between two atoms, which involves the sharing of one or more electrons to help each atom satisfy the octet rule. This interaction typically forms between two non-metals.
  • intramolecularRefers to interactions within a molecule.
  • intermolecular forcesRefers to interactions between two or more molecules.

Chemical bonds

Chemical bonds are the connections between atoms in a molecule. These bonds include both strong intramolecular interactions, such as covalent and ionic bonds. They are related to weaker intermolecular forces, such as dipole-dipole interactions, the London dispersion forces, and hydrogen bonding. The weaker forces will be discussed in a later concept.

Chemical bondsThis pictures shows examples of chemical bonding using Lewis dot notation. Hydrogen and carbon are not bonded, while in water there is a single bond between each hydrogen and oxygen. Bonds, especially covalent bonds, are often represented as lines between bonded atoms. Acetylene has a triple bond, a special type of covalent bond that will be discussed later.

Covalent Bonds

Chemical bonds are the forces of attraction that tie atoms together. Bonds are formed when valence electrons, the electrons in the outermost electronic “shell” of an atom, interact. The nature of the interaction between the atoms depends on their relative electronegativity. Atoms with equal or similar electronegativity form covalent bonds, in which the valence electron density is shared between the two atoms. The electron density resides between the atoms and is attracted to both nuclei. This type of bond forms most frequently between two non-metals.

When there is a greater electronegativity difference than between covalently bonded atoms, the pair of atoms usually forms a polar covalent bond. The electrons are still shared between the atoms, but the electrons are not equally attracted to both elements. As a result, the electrons tend to be found near one particular atom most of the time. Again, polar covalent bonds tend to occur between non-metals.

Ionic Bonds

Finally, for atoms with the largest electronegativity differences (such as metals bonding with nonmetals), the bonding interaction is called ionic, and the valence electrons are typically represented as being transferred from the metal atom to the nonmetal. Once the electrons have been transferred to the non-metal, both the metal and the non-metal are considered to be ions. The two oppositely charged ions attract each other to form an ionic compound.

Bonds, Stability, and Compounds

Covalent interactions are directional and depend on orbital overlap, while ionic interactions have no particular directionality. Each of these interactions allows the atoms involved to gain eight electrons in their valence shell, satisfying the octet rule and making the atoms more stable.

These atomic properties help describe the macroscopic properties of compounds. For example, smaller covalent compounds that are held together by weaker bonds are frequently soft and malleable. On the other hand, longer-range covalent interactions can be quite strong, making their compounds very durable. Ionic compounds, though composed of strong bonding interactions, tend to form brittle crystalline lattices.