3.10. The VSEPR Theory

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How can you determine a molecule's structure?

"VSEPR" = Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion

  • Each electron pair in a molecule is repelled by the other pairs.
  • Maximal distance between the areas with high electron density ⇒ structure!

Method

  1. Count the total number of valence electrons + extra charges.
  2. Divide by two (to get the number of pairs).
  3. Connect the atoms with single bonds.
  4. Place electron pairs so that all ligands have noble gas structure.
  5. Move bonds to the central atom, so that all atoms have noble gas structure.
  6. Electron pairs repel each other ⇒ conclusion about the molecule’s structure.

Example 1: Methane

1. Number of valence electrons

  • C: 4
  • H: 4 × 1 = 4
  • In total: 8

2. Divide by two

  • Number of electron pairs: 8/2 = 4 pairs

3. Connect the atoms with single bonds

Below, the Lewis dot structure for methane is shown.

Methane, Lewis dot structure.

4–5. Nobel gas structure + move bonds

The four hydrogen atoms are connected to the carbon atom with covalent bonds.

  • All the atoms already have noble gas structure.

Methane.

6. Conclusion about the molecule's structure

The structure of a methane molecule is tetrahedrical.The structure of a methane molecule is tetrahedrical.Four areas with high electron density ⇒ The hydrogen atoms end up in the corners of a tetrahedron.

Example 2: Carbon dioxide, CO2

1. Number of valence electrons

  • C: 4
  • O: 6 × 2 = 12
  • Totalt: 16

2. Divide by two

  • Number of electron pairs: 16/2 = 8 pairs

3. Connect the atoms with single bonds

The carbon atom is placed centrally, the oxygen atoms are ligands:

CO2 VSEPR 1 

4. Place the rest of the valence electrons

The electrons are placed so the ligand atoms get noble gas structure:

CO2 VSEPR 2 

5. Move electron pairs

The carbon atom also gets noble gas structure:

CO2 VSEPR 3

6. Conclusion about the molecule's structure

The carbon dioxide molecules is linear.The carbon dioxide molecules is linear.Two areas with high electron density (the double bonds) ⇒ 180° between the bonds, the molecule is linear.

Example 3: Beryllium chloride, BeCl2

1. Number of valence electrons

  • Be: 2
  • Cl: 7 × 2 st = 14 st
  • Totalt: 16

2. Divide by two

  • Number of electron pairs: 16/2 = 8 pairs

3. Connect the atoms with single bonds

The beryllium atom is placed centrally, the chlorine atoms are ligands:

BeCl2 VSEPR 1

4. Place the rest of the valence electrons

The electrons are placed so the ligand atoms get noble gas structure:

BeCl2 VSEPR 2 

5. Move electron pairs

The carbon atom also gets noble gas structure:

BeCl2 VSEPR 3

6. Conclusion about the molecule's structure

Two areas with high electron density (the double bonds) ⇒ 180° between the bonds.

  • Just like the CO2-molecule, BeCl2 is linear.

Example 4: Sulfur dioxide, SO2

1. Number of valence electrons

  • S: 6
  • Cl: 6 × 2 st = 12
  • Totalt: 18

2. Divide by two

  • Number of electron pairs: 18/2 = 9 pairs

3. Connect the atoms with single bonds

The sulfur atom is placed centrally, the oxygen atoms are ligands:

SO2 VSEPR 1

4. Place the rest of the valence electrons

The electrons are placed so the ligand atoms get noble gas structure.

  • Six of the remaining electron pairs are placed on the oxygen atoms.
  • The last electron pair is placed on the sulfur atom:

SO2 VSEPR 2 

5. Move electron pairs

The sulfur atom also gets noble gas structure:

SO2 VSEPR 3

6. Conclusion about the molecule's structure

The sulfur dioxide molecule is bent.The sulfur dioxide molecule is bent.Three areas with high electron density (including the non-binding electron pair on the sulfur atom) ⇒ 120° (approx.) between the bonds.

  • The SO2-molecule is bent.

Exercises

Use the VSEPR theory to determine the structures of each of the following molecules:

1. Carbon monoxide, CO

What is the structure of the carbon monoxide molecule, CO?

Answer

It is linear.

Lewis structure

Carbon monoxide lewis dot structure.

2. Dihydrogen sulfide, H2S

What is the structure of the dihydrogen sulfide molecule, H2S?

Answer

It is bent.

Lewis structure

Dihydrogen sulfide lewis structure.

3. Phosphor trichloride, PCl3

What is the structure of the phosfphor trichloride molecule, PCl3?

Answer

It is pyramidal.

Lewis structure

Phosphor trichloride lewis structure.

4. Carbonate ion, CO32–

What is the structure of the carbonate ion, \({\sf CO_3^{2-}}\)?

Answer

It is flat (triangular).

Lewis structure

Carbonate ion lewis structure.