In a tennis match, two players keep hitting the ball back and forth. The ball bounces from one player to the other, over and over again. The ball keeps the players moving together on the court. What if the two players represented the nuclei of two atoms and the ball represented valence electrons? What would the back and forth movement of the ball represent? The answer is a covalent bond.
A covalent bond is the force of attraction that holds together two atoms that share a pair of valence electrons. The shared electrons are attracted to the nuclei of both atoms. This forms a molecule consisting of two or more atoms. Covalent bonds form only between atoms of nonmetals.
Covalent Compounds and Diatomic Elements
The two atoms that are held together by a covalent bond may be atoms of the same element or different elements. When atoms of different elements form covalent bonds, a new substance, called a covalent compound, results. Water is an example of a covalent compound. A water molecule is modeled in the Figure below. A molecule is the smallest particle of a covalent compound that still has the properties of the compound.
Q: How many valence electrons does the oxygen atom (O) share with each hydrogen atom (H)? How many covalent bonds hold the water molecule together?
A: The oxygen atom shares one pair of valence electrons with each hydrogen atom. Each pair of shared electrons represents one covalent bond, so two covalent bonds hold the water molecule together.
The diagram in the Figure below shows an example of covalent bonds between two atoms of the same element, in this case two atoms of oxygen. The diagram represents an oxygen molecule, so it’s not a new compound. Oxygen normally occurs in diatomic (“two-atom”) molecules. Several other elements also occur as diatomic molecules: hydrogen, nitrogen, and all but one of the halogens (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine).
Q: How many electrons do these two oxygen atoms share? How many covalent bonds hold the oxygen molecule together?
A: The two oxygen atoms share two pairs of electrons, so two covalent bonds hold the oxygen molecule together.
Why Covalent Bonds Form
Covalent bonds form because they give atoms a more stable arrangement of electrons. Look at the oxygen atoms in the Figure above. Alone, each oxygen atom has six valence electrons. By sharing two pairs of valence electrons, each oxygen atom has a total of eight valence electrons. This fills its outer energy level, giving it the most stable arrangement of electrons. The shared electrons are attracted to both oxygen nuclei, and this force of attraction holds the two atoms together in the oxygen molecule.
- A covalent bond is the force of attraction that holds together two atoms that share a pair of valence electrons. Covalent bonds form only between atoms of nonmetals.
- The two atoms that are held together in a covalent bond may be atoms of the same element or different elements. When atoms of different elements bond together, it forms a covalent compound.
- Covalent bonds form because the shared electrons fill each atom’s outer energy level and this is the most stable arrangement of electrons.
- What is a covalent bond?
- Nitrogen is a diatomic element with five valence electrons. Create a model of a molecule of nitrogen.
- Which of the following represent molecules? Which represent compounds? Which represents a covalent compound?
Watch the video about covalent bonding and then answer the questions below.
- How can you tell the number covalent bonds the atoms of an element can form?
- How many covalent bonds can nitrogen form? How many covalent bonds can chlorine form?
- Why are covalent bonds stronger than ionic bonds?
- Why can’t molecules of a covalent compound conduct electricity?