I would have thought the answer to this question would be simple, but after searching this site I was unable to find any answers.

I know Brønsted-Lowry acids are defined in terms of proton donation, but what is it that makes the acids donate protons?

I guess the same would apply to Lewis acids, but in terms of electron pair acceptance.


Using the following generic reaction, where an acid donates $\ce{H+}$, i.e. a proton:

$$\ce{HX + B <=> X- + HB+}$$

If a lone pair of electrons on $\ce{B}$ has a higher energy than than than the resultant lone pair of electrons on $\ce{X-}$, then the $\ce{H+}$ on $\ce{HX}$ will be transferred to $\ce{B}$ to form $\ce{HB+}$ in order to stabilize the high energy lone pair on $\ce{B}$ in the form of a bond.

So, there are two things that influence whether an acid will transfer a proton:

  1. The energy of the lone pair on the base
  2. The energy of the lone pair on the resultant the conjugate base

If the conjugate base of the acid is more able to stablize a lone pair than the basic starting material is, an acid-base reaction will occur, and a majority of the basic reactant will end up being protonated.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Perhaps, given the question, it is worth pointing out that 'donating a proton' is the same as 'donating a hydrogen ion'. $\endgroup$
    – Phil H
    May 3 '16 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ Fixed. Good point. $\endgroup$ May 3 '16 at 10:56

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