Which is the least stable trihalide of nitrogen and why?
I have two conflicting theories, one is that fluorine-fluorine electron repulsion will make $\ce{NF3}$ least stable and another is steric reasons of iodine which give $\ce{NI3}$ as the answer.

Which is correct?


1 Answer 1


Nitrogen triiodide $\ce{NI3}$ is an extremely sensitive explosive that explodes with the slightest touch when dry.

Nitrogen trifluoride $\ce{NF3}$ is so stable that it is a greenhouse gas global warming concern, with lifetime in the atmosphere of hundreds of years.

$\ce{NI3}$ is unstable due to steric strain as you are saying.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree with Dave's answer, but would add that iodoform ($\ce{CHI3}$) is stable. I suspect that $\ce{NI3}$ is unstable due to sterics and an extremely exothermic pathway leading to the formation of the very stable $\ce{N#N}$ triple bond. A similar decomposition pathway does not exist for iodoform, hence its relative stability. $\endgroup$
    – ron
    Feb 17, 2015 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ I could be wrong about the reason, since NCl3 is also unstable. $\endgroup$
    – DavePhD
    Feb 17, 2015 at 21:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I believe something's rather different about the fluorine compounds. Even sulfur hexafluoride and carbon tetrafluoride are extremely stable. I guess it's by virtue of their high bond strengths. $\endgroup$
    – Lexicon
    Feb 18, 2015 at 9:07

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