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An atom is the smallest particle of an element which is still recognisable as that element.

A molecule is the smallest particle of a substance that is capable of separate existence. An ion is a positively or negatively charged particle.
cation = positive ion anion = negative ion

We use words to name and describe substances, but often we need a simpler way to represent them on paper. We use chemical symbols as a shorthand way to talk about different elements.

Some symbols are simply the first letter of the name of the element (always a capital letter). These symbols are generally used for very common elements.


boron carbon fluorine hydrogen iodine


nitrogen oxygen phosphorus sulfur uranium

Where there are several elements beginning with the same letter, a second letter is used. This is frequently (though not always) the second letter of the name of the element. The first letter is a capital (upper case) and the second a small (lower case) letter.
aluminium barium calcium nickel platinum Ar argon Bi Cl bismuth chlorine As arsenic Br bromine Cr chromium Co cobalt

Al Ba Ca Ni Pt

Ne neon Pu plutonium

For some elements we use a symbol based on a non-English name of the element (typically Latin).
Na Cu Ag Hg sodium copper silver mercury natrum cuprum argentum hydrargentum Au K Fe Pb gold potassium iron lead aurum kalium ferrum plumbum

We combine symbols to represent how a compound is put together - called a formula.


This formula tells us that:

water is made of the elements hydrogen and oxygen the water molecule contains two atoms of hydrogen bound to one atom of oxygen.

Subscripts tell us how many of that atom or ion is in that compound They refer to the element immediately preceding it (as in water above) They cannot be changed, as these numbers are determined by the place of each element in the periodic table
If you change subscripts then you are actually inventing new substances! e.g. water (H2O) vs. hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)

Lets further compare H2O (water) and H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). H2O
melting point boiling point density 0 C 100C 1 g/mL

0.4C 151C 1.47 g/mL

stability to heat
bleaching action toxicity

Stable to 2000
none none

Can explode at room temp.

powerful highly toxic

Brackets with a subscript outside mean that we need to multiply everything inside by that number. Ca(OH)2 has 1 calcium ion (Ca2+) and 2 hydroxide ions (OH).
The brackets indicate that overall there are 2 hydrogen (H) atoms and 2 oxygen (O) atoms.

Fe2(SO4)3 has 2 iron (Fe3+) ions and 3 sulfate ions (SO42).

The brackets indicate that overall there are 3 sulfur (S) atoms and 12 oxygen (O) atoms.

Atoms have a tiny, dense NUCLEUS surrounded by a cloud of ELECTRONS. The nucleus is made up of two types of particle, PROTONS and NEUTRONS. Electrons can be pictured in orbits around the nucleus.
symbol mass electric charge +1 0 1

protons neutrons electrons

p n e

1 1
1 1800

All atoms of a given element have the same number of protons in their nucleus

atomic number = number of protons

The number of protons in an atom tells us WHICH ELEMENT it is:

1 proton - the atom must be hydrogen 6 protons - the atom must be carbon

Atoms have equal numbers of protons & electrons Atoms are electrically neutral, whereas their protons and electrons are charged.
Protons have a positive charge (+1) Electrons have a negative charge (-1)

like charges repel

unlike charges attract

Atoms in a sample of an element would repel each other if they had an electric charge. This is why atoms must be electrically neutral.
There must be equal number of + and - charges.

number of protons = number of electrons

Around the outside of the atom, electrons are placed in shells that are like the planets orbiting around the Sun. These orbits start close to the nucleus and get further and further away. Electrons fill the inside shells first.

The outer shell of electrons is called the valence shell. These valence shell electrons are the ONLY electrons that are involved in chemical reactions.

However, the atoms of some elements are very unstable. In order to become more stable, these atoms can lose or gain electrons to become ions. e.g. the sodium atom (Na) is explosively reactive, but the sodium ion (Na+) is essential to our diet such as in table salt.

A positive ion is an atom that has lost one or more electrons:

More positive protons than negative electrons

We write a positive charge for every electron lost, e.g.

Na+ means one electron lost (same as Na1+) Ca2+ means two electrons lost Al3+ means three electrons lost

A negative ion is an atom that has gained one or more electrons

More negative electrons than positive protons

We write a negative charge for every electron lost, e.g.

F- means one electron gained (same as F1-) O2- means two electrons gained N3- means three electrons gained

Atoms want to have a full outer shell of electrons, and will lose or gain electrons to make this happen. Based on this idea, we can explain:
why some molecules are stable, while others are not The way elements in groups 1, 2, 7 and 8 form ions

Group 1 elements have a strong tendency to GIVE UP ONE ELECTRON to form a +1 ion Na 2 8 1
-1 electron


2 8

2 8 8 1


Group 2 elements, similarly, give up TWO ELECTRONS to form a +2 ion Mg 2 8 2 -2 electrons Ca 2 8 8 2 Mg2+


Group 1 elements have a strong tendency to GIVE UP ONE ELECTRON to form a +1 ion Na 2 8 1
-1 electron


2 8

2 8 8 1


2 8 8

Group 2 elements, similarly, give up TWO ELECTRONS to form a +2 ion Mg 2 8 2 -2 electrons Ca 2 8 8 2 Mg2+


Group 1 elements have a strong tendency to GIVE UP ONE ELECTRON to form a +1 ion Na 2 8 1
-1 electron


2 8

2 8 8 1


2 8 8

Group 2 elements, similarly, give up TWO ELECTRONS to form a +2 ion Mg 2 8 2 -2 electrons Ca 2 8 8 2 Mg2+ 2 8

Ca2+ 2 8 8

Group 7 elements can ACCEPT ONE ELECTRON to give a 1 ion

F 2 7
+1 electron

F Cl

2 8


2 8 7

2 8 8

Group 8 elements (the inert gases) already have FULL outer shells,

so they have no tendency to lose or gain electrons.

Ne 2 8 no ions formed
outer shell already full


2 8 8

1. Read off the number of electrons in the outer shell of the atom (= group number) 2. Add or subtract up to 3 electrons to give a full outer shell (8 electrons for everything except H)
Since like charges repel, a charge of 3+ or 3- is normally the maximum allowed


2 8 1


2 8

11 protons 11 electrons

11 protons 10 electrons


2 8 7


2 8 8

17 protons 17 electrons

17 __ protons __ electrons 18

Work out the charge from the number of protons and electrons, or (easier) from the number of electrons added/subtracted.

Electrons in outer shell? Add/subtract how many to make octet? 1 subtract 1 +1

7 add 1 -1

6 add 2 -2

Is the ion positive or negative?

Ions form when electrons are donated and accepted An atom of sodium, Na cannot form an ion alone. However, if an atom of Na were allowed to react with an atom of Cl:
Na Cl 2 8 1 2 8 7 Cl2 8 8
sodium ion
chloride ion


2 8

Sodium donates one electron to chlorine so that each can have an inert gas configuration. This results in a compound, NaCl, consisting of Na+ and Cl- ions.

Some ions are made of one atom (monatomic) Other ions are made of more than one atom, which stay combined together and act as one unit polyatomic (poly = many)
This unit has an overall charge, which can be either positive or negative

e.g. nitrate (NO3-), sulfate (SO42-), phosphate (PO43-)