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Dipole-dipole attractions

Recall from the chapter on chemical bonding and molecular geometry that polar molecules have a partial positive charge on one side and a partial negative charge on the other side of the molecule—a separation of charge called a dipole . Consider a polar molecule such as hydrogen chloride, HCl. In the HCl molecule, the more electronegative Cl atom bears the partial negative charge, whereas the less electronegative H atom bears the partial positive charge. An attractive force between HCl molecules results from the attraction between the positive end of one HCl molecule and the negative end of another. This attractive force is called a dipole-dipole attraction    —the electrostatic force between the partially positive end of one polar molecule and the partially negative end of another, as illustrated in [link] .

Two pairs of molecules are shown where each molecule has one larger blue side labeled “delta sign, negative sign” and a smaller red side labeled “delta sign, positive sign. In the first pair, the red sides of the two molecules both face to the left and the blue side to the right. A horizontal dotted line lies in between the two. In the second pair, the molecules face up and down, with the red and blue ends aligning. A horizontal dotted line lies between the red and blue ends facing upward and another lies between the red and blue ends facing downward.
This image shows two arrangements of polar molecules, such as HCl, that allow an attraction between the partial negative end of one molecule and the partial positive end of another.

The effect of a dipole-dipole attraction is apparent when we compare the properties of HCl molecules to nonpolar F 2 molecules. Both HCl and F 2 consist of the same number of atoms and have approximately the same molecular mass. At a temperature of 150 K, molecules of both substances would have the same average KE. However, the dipole-dipole attractions between HCl molecules are sufficient to cause them to “stick together” to form a liquid, whereas the relatively weaker dispersion forces between nonpolar F 2 molecules are not, and so this substance is gaseous at this temperature. The higher normal boiling point of HCl (188 K) compared to F 2 (85 K) is a reflection of the greater strength of dipole-dipole attractions between HCl molecules, compared to the attractions between nonpolar F 2 molecules. We will often use values such as boiling or freezing points, or enthalpies of vaporization or fusion, as indicators of the relative strengths of IMFs of attraction present within different substances.

Dipole-dipole forces and their effects

Predict which will have the higher boiling point: N 2 or CO. Explain your reasoning.


CO and N 2 are both diatomic molecules with masses of about 28 amu, so they experience similar London dispersion forces. Because CO is a polar molecule, it experiences dipole-dipole attractions. Because N 2 is nonpolar, its molecules cannot exhibit dipole-dipole attractions. The dipole-dipole attractions between CO molecules are comparably stronger than the dispersion forces between nonpolar N 2 molecules, so CO is expected to have the higher boiling point.

Check your learning

Predict which will have the higher boiling point: ICl or Br 2 . Explain your reasoning.


ICl. ICl and Br 2 have similar masses (~160 amu) and therefore experience similar London dispersion forces. ICl is polar and thus also exhibits dipole-dipole attractions; Br 2 is nonpolar and does not. The relatively stronger dipole-dipole attractions require more energy to overcome, so ICl will have the higher boiling point.

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Practice Key Terms 8

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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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