I am currently learning about ions and I am a bit confused about the bonding part.

I understand that if an atom has an 'unstable' amount of electrons (like 2 electrons, then 8, then 4) that it can 'borrow' some electrons from some other elements. An example of this would be sodium and chlorine.

But again, I am just confused on the bonding part. So when an atom loses or gains electrons it obviously changes to a + or - but does that particular element (atom) have to join with the other atom, or do they just 'give' each other electrons and 'be happy'?

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    $\begingroup$ If you rub a balloon and hold above your head, you will notice that your hairs are lifted. What is happening is that your hair and the balloon is charged. One is slightly positive and one is slightly negative. This is what causes them to attract. And this attraction is what lifts your hair up. The hair and balloon situation is somewhat similar to ionic bonds. The ions become charged as a result of the transfer of electrons. Since they are charged, they become attracted to each other (similar as to the hair and balloon). $\endgroup$ May 19, 2016 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ This is why breaking ionic bonds are somewhat easier to break apart than covalent bonds. All you have to do to break ionic bonds is to neutralize the charge of the ions. This is what happens when you dissolve salt in water. $\endgroup$ May 19, 2016 at 9:55
  • $\begingroup$ Covalent bonds, however, share electrons. It is harder to make a compound or chemical to share electrons for reasons that are complex (I don't think I understand all of it to be honest). $\endgroup$ May 19, 2016 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Quantum you don't netralize the ionic charges wen you dissolve $\ce{NaCl}$ in water. You insulate them from each other instead, with solvation and the dielectric constant of the water. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2016 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ @OscarLanzi www4.ncsu.edu/~hubbe/Defnitns/Neutrlzn.htm $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2016 at 13:02

2 Answers 2


Ok so this is very simple concept There are 3 ways known in which atoms bond ie join to each other. Every atom needs 8 electrons in their outermost shell(valence shell) to be stable. Stable means it does not react with other atoms and form more bonds. So if it is able to get 8 electrons in their outermost shell by combining with other atoms, then it becomes stable. Now once this part is clear, we can proceed further. Now an atom can have various no of electrons in their outermost shell(valence shell) ranging from 1 to 8. For example Sodium has 1, Magnesium has 2, Aluminium has 3, Chlorine has 7 and Neon has 8. Neon is stable( as u mention happy) because it has 8 electrons in the outermost shell.But what about the others (Sodium , Magnesium etc etc?) In their case, they need to seek help of other atoms by either taking electrons, giving electrons or sharing electrons.(also donating electrons but that is much more advanced. Right now we can skip that).

Now these atoms are pretty smart. If they have electrons less than or equal to 3, they will give away their electrons to some other atom which needs some. So instead of trying to find 5-7 more electrons, they simply give away their 1-3 electrons and depend on the prior shell which already has 8 electrons.On the other hand, atoms with 5 or more electrons will search for atoms which are ready to give away such electrons and take from them instead of losing 5-7 electrons which is a large no. This, is called electrovalent bond. A trick to remember

less thn 4= give electron more than 4= take electron. Whichever combination forms 8, match made :) for eg Sodium gives one electron, and Chlorine takes one which has 7 electrons. Or it could also be this way- 1 Magnesium has 2 electrons to give, while chlorine required only one, so they play smart. Instead of one chlorine, 2 chlorines come into picture as 2 chlorines require 2 electroms. They form MgCl2 (Magnesium Chloride).

Now the part where you may most likely be confused is covalent bonds, which are formed by "sharing" of electrons. In the previous case, it was not sharing, it was give and take. Sharing means both the participating atoms give, and both take. In previous case, it was 1 give one take. In this this case, it is both give and both take. How? Lets take example of O2 in this case. An oxygen atom has 6 valence electrons. So it requires 2 more.. how can it do so with another oxygen? Well, its quite simple. Oxygen takes two of its electrons and shares it with another oxygen, which in return also shares it with 2 electrons. They do not exactly LOSE their electrons to the other one, the 4 electrons 2 from atom a and two from atom B are shared, are in between, kind of like a tug of war with equal force on both sides. Thats covalent bond. Phew, enough said, its more about how you visualize it. If you can visualize this, then congrats, you mastered the basics.


It would be useful to note that you can never have 100% ionic bonds. The ionic bond is regarded as a rather extreme case of covalent bonding and will therefore always have some degree of covalent character. When the electronegativity difference between two elements is less than 0.5 the bond is said to be a non-polar covalent bond with more or less equal sharing of the electrons between the atoms. When the difference is between 0.5 and 1.7 then the bond is said to be a polar covalent bond with the electrons spending more time around the element with higher electronegativity. Above 1.7 difference, the bond is considered to be ionic but as I said, that really is a very very polar covalent bond. The 0.5 and 1.7 cutoff numbers are just rough approximation. For example, the C-Li bond has electronegativity difference of about 1.5 and can either be regarded as ionic or covalent. It is more appropriate to think of bonds belonging to a spectrum which transitions from non-polar covalent, through polar covalent, towards ionic bonds. There are formulas you can look into which allows you to calculate the percentage ionic character of bonds which tells you how close to 100% ionic the bond really is.


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