We have a solution $\ce{CH3COOH}$ (acetic acid) with $c=0.02~\mathrm{mol/L}$
and the of acetic acid, $K_A = 1.8\cdot10^{-5}$. Calculate the $\mathrm{pH}$ of this solution.

I tried everything but I failed and couldn't do it, I wasted about hours on this question.

Edit form comment:
All I know is that it is a weak acid and the $$\mathrm{pH}= \mathrm{p}K_A + \log\left(\frac{B}{A}\right).$$ I know $A$ but there is no information about $B$.

  • $\begingroup$ What did you try? Start here: Is acetic acid a strong acid or a weak acid? You should have some notes or a text to help you calculate the pH of acid solutions. $\endgroup$ – Brinn Belyea Jul 19 '14 at 0:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You are trying to use an equation that solves for the pH of a buffer for the pH of a weak acid. Look for a method of solving for the pH of a weak acid. $\endgroup$ – Brinn Belyea Jul 19 '14 at 1:07

This type of problem is best solved using the ICE (Initial Change Equilibrium) method.

First, write down the chemical equation and the law of mass action for this reaction.

$$\ce{HC2H3O2 <=> H+ + C2H3O2-}$$ $$K_a = \dfrac{[\ce{H+}][\ce{C2H3O2-}]}{[\ce{HC2H3O2}]}$$

Second, determine the initial concentration of each of the three species. Make a little table to keep everything straight:

        [HC2H3O2]      [H+]      [C2H3O2-]
I       0.02 M         0 M       0 M

At equilibrium, some of the acetic acid will be ionized. How much? We don't know right now, so let's have that be a variable; $x$. At equilibrium, the concentration of acetic acid will have decreased by $x$. How much will the concentration of $\ce{H+}$ and acetate anion increase? Since the stoichiometric coefficient of all species is 1, then those concentrations will increase by $x$. Let's add that to our table. Let's also write an expression for the equilibrium concentrations in terms of the initial concentrations and $x$.

        [HC2H3O2]      [H+]      [C2H3O2-]
I         0.02 M        0 M         0 M
C           -x M       +x M        +x M
E       0.02-x M        x M         x M

Now, plug these expressions into the law of mass action:

$$K_a = \dfrac{[\ce{H+}][\ce{C2H3O2-}]}{[\ce{HC2H3O2}]} = \dfrac{(x)(x)}{(0.02-x)}$$

As long as $x\ne 0.02$, which is very unlikely at equilibrium, we have a solvable quadratic equation:

$$K_a=1.8\times 10^{-5}= \dfrac{(x)(x)}{(0.02-x)}$$ $$3.6\times 10^{-7}-1.8\times 10^{-5}x-x^2=0$$

Some texts will encourage you to make the simplification $0.02-x \approx 0.02$ since $x<<0.02$, however, WolframAlpha can solve the original equation (and so can you).

The equation has two roots: $x=5.91\times 10^{-4}$ and $x=-6.09\times 10^{-4}$. The second one is nonsense (we cannot have negative concentrations).

Now, we know what $x$ is. What do we still need to know to determine pH? How is $x$ related to pH?

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If you make the assumption that $0.02-x\approx 0.02$, then the positive root is $x=6.0\times 10^{-4}$, not a big difference given the significant figures. If you knew your initial concentration more precisely, this assumption would be invalid. $\endgroup$ – Ben Norris Jul 19 '14 at 19:19

@bennorris method works, but I think my method may save some time.


        [HC2H3O2]      [H+]      [C2H3O2-]
I         0.02 M        0 M         0 M
C           0  M       +x M        +x M
E         0.02 M        x M         x M

I keep the acetic acid concentration to be the same because I assume the x value will be really small( you can prove it later)

$$K_a = 1.8\times 10^{-5}=\dfrac{[\ce{H+}][\ce{C2H3O2-}]}{[\ce{HC2H3O2}]} = \dfrac{(x)(x)}{(0.02)}$$

$$ x=6.0 \times 10^{-4}$$

You can prove the assumption by dividing your x value with your initial concentration of acetic acid $$ \dfrac{[6.0 \times 10^{-4}M]}{[0.02 M]} =0.03 =3\% < 5\%$$ If the percentage you get is smaller than five percent, your assumption will be correct. This method will save you some time as you don't have to deal withe the quadratic equation and give you a extremely similar answer

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ Please explain why "5%" is the criterion. $\endgroup$ – Archer Nov 7 '17 at 19:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I have to say that if you turned in this answer in an exam I was marking you would score zero. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Nov 9 '17 at 9:12
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRennie its not a bad way of solving the problem. The convergence criteria is somewhat arbitrary, and you should probably show one more step to be sure, but this is a pretty common way of solving this sort of problem. See method of successive approximations (also sometimes called iterative method): chem.purdue.edu/gchelp/howtosolveit/Equilibrium/Review_Math.htm $\endgroup$ – Tyberius Nov 12 '17 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but the ICE table should initially be setup as Ben did it. Then make the assumption that $0.02-x \approx 0.02$. The 5% criteria seems to have been pulled from thin air. I'd base the needed precision on significant figures (2) giving a need for about 1%. Lastly the acetate species could have been normalized to 100% which would have given a result very close to the "true" answer. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Nov 12 '17 at 21:40

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.