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Names and Formulas of Ternary Ionic Compounds

Definition, naming system and role of charges

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Names and Formulas of Ternary Ionic Compounds

Combinations of pizza toppings are like combinations of ions

Credit: Jon Sullivan
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pepperoni_pizza.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How many varieties of pizza can you think of?

Most people enjoy eating pizza.  When they order a pizza (either by phone, on-line, or in a restaurant), they don’t just order “pizza.”  Even the simplest “binary” pizza will have a topping and cheese – maybe pepperoni, maybe something else. However, many pizzas quickly become more complex. One person may want pepperoni and sausage, another may wish to order Canadian bacon and pineapple, and then you have the folks that can’t decide, so they order half-this and half-that.  The combinations may be more complex, but the same basic ideas about pizza are valid.

Ternary Ionic Compounds

Not all ionic compounds are composed of only monatomic ions. A ternary ionic compound is an ionic compound composed of three or more elements. In a typical ternary ionic compound, there is still one type of cation and one type of anion involved. The cation, the anion, or both, is a polyatomic ion.

Naming Ternary Ionic Compounds

The process of naming ternary ionic compounds is the same as naming binary ionic compounds. The cation is named first, followed by the anion. Some examples are shown in Table below:

Examples of Ternary Ionic Compounds




sodium nitrate


ammonium chloride


iron(III) hydroxide

When more than one polyatomic ion is present in a compound, the formula of the ion is placed in parentheses with a subscript outside of the parentheses that indicates how many of those ions are in the compound. In the last example above, there is one Fe3+ cation and three OH- anions.

Writing Formulas for Ternary Ionic Compounds

Writing a formula for a ternary ionic compound also involves the same steps as for a binary ionic compound. Write the symbol and charge of the cation followed by the symbol and charge of the anion. Use the crisscross method to ensure that the final formula is neutral. Calcium nitrate is composed of a calcium cation and a nitrate anion.

How to write the formula for calcium nitrate

Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Joy Sheng
Source: CK-12 Foundation
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The charge is balanced by the presence of two nitrate ions and one calcium ion. Parentheses are used around the nitrate ion because more than one of the polyatomic ion is needed. If only one polyatomic ion is in a formula, parentheses are not used. As an example, the formula for calcium carbonate is CaCO3. The carbonate ion carries a 2− charge and so exactly balances the 2+ charge of the calcium ion.


  • Ternary compounds are composed of three or more elements.
  • Ternary compounds are named by stating the cation first, followed by the anion.
  • Positive and negative charges must balance.


  1. What is a ternary compound?
  2. What is the basic rule for naming ternary compounds?
  3. Write the formulas for the following compounds:
    1. mercury(II) nitrate
    2. ammonium phosphate
    3. calcium silicate
    4. lead(II) chromate
  4. Name the following compounds:
    1. KClO3
    2. Rb2SO4
    3. Cd(NO3)2
    4. NaCN

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Jon Sullivan; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pepperoni_pizza.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Joy Sheng; Source: CK-12 Foundation; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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