Chemistry » Chemical Bonding » Formal Charges and Resonance

Summarizing Formal Charges and Resonance

Key Concepts and Summary

In a Lewis structure, formal charges can be assigned to each atom by treating each bond as if one-half of the electrons are assigned to each atom. These hypothetical formal charges are a guide to determining the most appropriate Lewis structure. A structure in which the formal charges are as close to zero as possible is preferred.

Resonance occurs in cases where two or more Lewis structures with identical arrangements of atoms but different distributions of electrons can be written. The actual distribution of electrons (the resonance hybrid) is an average of the distribution indicated by the individual Lewis structures (the resonance forms).

Key Equations

  • \(\text{formal charge}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}=\text{# valence shell electrons (free atom)}\phantom{\rule{0.1em}{0ex}}-\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{# one pair electrons}\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}-\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\frac{1}{2}\phantom{\rule{0.3em}{0ex}}\text{# bonding electrons}\)


formal charge

charge that would result on an atom by taking the number of valence electrons on the neutral atom and subtracting the nonbonding electrons and the number of bonds (one-half of the bonding electrons)

molecular structure

arrangement of atoms in a molecule or ion


situation in which one Lewis structure is insufficient to describe the bonding in a molecule and the average of multiple structures is observed

resonance forms

two or more Lewis structures that have the same arrangement of atoms but different arrangements of electrons

resonance hybrid

average of the resonance forms shown by the individual Lewis structures

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