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Resonance

You may have noticed that the nitrite anion in [link] can have two possible structures with the atoms in the same positions. The electrons involved in the N–O double bond, however, are in different positions:

Two Lewis structures are shown. The left structure shows an oxygen atom with three lone pairs of electrons single bonded to a nitrogen atom with one lone pair of electrons that is double bonded to an oxygen with two lone pairs of electrons. Brackets surround this structure, and there is a superscripted negative sign. The right structure shows an oxygen atom with two lone pairs of electrons double bonded to a nitrogen atom with one lone pair of electrons that is single bonded to an oxygen atom with three lone pairs of electrons. Brackets surround this structure, and there is a superscripted negative sign.

If nitrite ions do indeed contain a single and a double bond, we would expect for the two bond lengths to be different. A double bond between two atoms is shorter (and stronger) than a single bond between the same two atoms. Experiments show, however, that both N–O bonds in NO 2 have the same strength and length, and are identical in all other properties.

It is not possible to write a single Lewis structure for NO 2 in which nitrogen has an octet and both bonds are equivalent. Instead, we use the concept of resonance    : if two or more Lewis structures with the same arrangement of atoms can be written for a molecule or ion, the actual distribution of electrons is an average of that shown by the various Lewis structures. The actual distribution of electrons in each of the nitrogen-oxygen bonds in NO 2 is the average of a double bond and a single bond. We call the individual Lewis structures resonance forms    . The actual electronic structure of the molecule (the average of the resonance forms) is called a resonance hybrid    of the individual resonance forms. A double-headed arrow between Lewis structures indicates that they are resonance forms. Thus, the electronic structure of the NO 2 ion is shown as:

Two Lewis structures are shown with a double headed arrow drawn between them. The left structure shows an oxygen atom with two lone pairs of electrons double bonded to a nitrogen atom with one lone pair of electrons that is single bonded to an oxygen atom with three lone pairs of electrons. Brackets surround this structure, and there is a superscripted negative sign. The right structure shows an oxygen atom with three lone pairs of electrons single bonded to a nitrogen atom with one lone pair of electrons that is double bonded to an oxygen atom with two lone pairs of electrons. Brackets surround this structure, and there is a superscripted negative sign.

We should remember that a molecule described as a resonance hybrid never possesses an electronic structure described by either resonance form. It does not fluctuate between resonance forms; rather, the actual electronic structure is always the average of that shown by all resonance forms. George Wheland, one of the pioneers of resonance theory, used a historical analogy to describe the relationship between resonance forms and resonance hybrids. A medieval traveler, having never before seen a rhinoceros, described it as a hybrid of a dragon and a unicorn because it had many properties in common with both. Just as a rhinoceros is neither a dragon sometimes nor a unicorn at other times, a resonance hybrid is neither of its resonance forms at any given time. Like a rhinoceros, it is a real entity that experimental evidence has shown to exist. It has some characteristics in common with its resonance forms, but the resonance forms themselves are convenient, imaginary images (like the unicorn and the dragon).

The carbonate anion, CO 3 2− , provides a second example of resonance:

Three Lewis structures are shown with double headed arrows in between. Each structure is surrounded by brackets, and each has a superscripted two negative sign. The left structure depicts a carbon atom bonded to three oxygen atoms. It is single bonded to two of these oxygen atoms, each of which has three lone pairs of electrons, and double bonded to the third, which has two lone pairs of electrons. The double bond is located between the lower left oxygen atom and the carbon atom. The central and right structures are the same as the first, but the position of the double bonded oxygen has moved to the lower right oxygen in the central structure and to the top oxygen in the right structure.

One oxygen atom must have a double bond to carbon to complete the octet on the central atom. All oxygen atoms, however, are equivalent, and the double bond could form from any one of the three atoms. This gives rise to three resonance forms of the carbonate ion. Because we can write three identical resonance structures, we know that the actual arrangement of electrons in the carbonate ion is the average of the three structures. Again, experiments show that all three C–O bonds are exactly the same.

Questions & Answers

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Esterification is the general name for a chemical reaction in which two reactants (typically an alcohol and an acid) form an ester(-COOR) as the reaction product....
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Practice Key Terms 5

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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