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Ok, most people including me know that formal charge is just a book-keeping tool. I know how to calculate it, apply it to Lewis structures etc etc. But I am confused in its very basic definition which says - "Formal charge is the charge on an atom if the electronegativity differences are ignored" . If the electronegativity difference is ignored, then how can an atom have charge ? I know this is not a place to ask such a basic question , but still I am very confused about this miniscule definition.

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Take a look at this previous question to see if it helps you out. – Nicolau Saker Neto Jul 20 '14 at 12:46
@NicolauSakerNeto Thanks but I know all that (how to calculate and use formal charges). I just want an explanation to this definition. – user2619 Jul 20 '14 at 13:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted

A good description appears in the book, "Chemistry A Molecular Approach".

In the molecule of hydrogen fluoride, we know that it has a dipole moment, and fluoride is slightly negative. Ignoring this information (electronegativity difference) and we share the bonding electrons equally, the Formal Charge can be calculated, and both of them are determined to be 0.

In reality, we know that fluoride has the electron from the hydrogen most of the time (due to electronegativity difference). We say the hydrogen has a +1 charge and the fluoride has a -1 charge.

From this, it is apparent that the Formal Charge is different from the charge on the atoms in a molecule.

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