In my search to understand the bonding in structures like $\ce{SF6}$ I found many sources that said it was because sulfur has d orbitals to accommodate an expanded octet, which made sense to me. But I also found sources like the paper by Reed and Weinhold (1986) that say d orbitals contribute very little to the bonding in $\ce{SF6}$. An alternative explanation is that $\ce{SF6}$ has three-center/two-electron bonds. What I don't understand is why compounds like $\ce{SF6}$, $\ce{ClF5}$, $\ce{PCl5}$ exist for third row element centers, but not $\ce{OF6}$ if it has nothing to do with d orbitals? References would be great.


2 Answers 2


Neither oxygen nor sulfur "expands its octet". Instead, sulfur in compounds such as $\ce{SF6}$ delocalizes the bonds formed with the usual octet over multiple linkages. As described in this answer, this delocalization in a neutral molecule comes with occupying ligand-based orbitals that are roughly nonbonding with a large central atom, but antibonding with a small central atom because of ligand-ligand interactions. Thus forming a compound with delocalized bonding and increased coordination number is more favored for third period elements than for second period elements.

We can get such coordination with second-period elements if the ligand-based orbitals noted above are unoccupied, for then the net ligand-ligand overlaps with the remaining orbitals are bonding. This usually requires a cationic species such as the six-coordinate carbon complex reported by Yamaguchi et al.[1], pictured below from the reference.

enter image description here


1. Torahiko Yamaguchi, Yohsuke Yamamoto, Daisuke Kinoshita, Kin-ya Akiba, Yun Zhang, Christopher A. Reed, Daisuke Hashizume, and Fujiko Iwasaki. "Synthesis and Structure of a Hexacoordinate Carbon Compound", J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2008, 130, 22, 6894–6895. https://doi.org/10.1021/ja710423d


enter image description here

Hopefully the pictures answers the question as to why oxygen cannot form an octet, when covalently bonding with other atoms, such as if it was possible for it to form OF6, but sulfur can, to form SF6. But a brief added explanation below:

It's to with the working out oxygen and sulfur's electon configuration, and then also representing this configuration using arrows in boxes. Realising that oxygen only goes up to the 2nd quantum principal shell number, so 2s and 2p, and ends here.

Sulfur has electrons in 3s and 3p, but has an additional 3d sub shell as well, that's currently empty. It can excite some its paired electrons into this empty orbital, spreading them out, so each can now form bonds and expand an octet to 12 electrons.

Oxygen has no empty orbital in quantum 2, so cannot excite and 'spread' its electrons, so cannot bond these to form an expanded octet.

Hope this helps.

Hannah S

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    $\begingroup$ Please make sure the image is properly oriented and is easily readable (yours lack contrast and handwritten text is hard to read). Besides, about 3/4 information is text, not graphics, and must be input as such, not as photo. $\endgroup$
    – andselisk
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Regardless of some adjustment on your illustration, it still is at the level of a doodle to prepare an answer anticipated for chemistry.se. Even if the doodle were prepared by with typewriter or a computer to ease reading, it is an image and as such the text is not searchable, the content is locked away. But this is just the opposite of chemistry.se's approach to retrieve answers easily by entering a few keywords. Please consider this perspective, and edit your answer accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – Buttonwood
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 16:15

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