What should be the oxidation state of $\ce{F}$ in $\ce{HOF}$.

As fluorine is the most electronegative element in the periodic table, it should be $-1$. But when I googled it, I found that many sources say it is $+1$ based on the fact that it is an oxidising agent.

Is there any theoretical way in which we can predict its oxidation no. or at least explain this anomaly.

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    $\begingroup$ Any compound involving both oxygen and fluorine is likely to be an exception to the normal rules of thumb — for everything, not just oxidation states. $\endgroup$ – zwol Aug 30 '16 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ Also, keep in mind that "oxidation state" of anything in a covalent molecule is merely an approximation to what is really going on. I'd expect the electron distribution in $\ce{HOF}$ to be basically that the O and the F have ganged up on the H, stolen its electron, and are sharing it between them with some, but not a lot, of polarization toward the F — on the order of $\ce{H+}$, $\ce{O^{-0.4}}$, $\ce{F^{-0.6}}$. $\endgroup$ – zwol Aug 30 '16 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Oxidation state of HOF $\endgroup$ – zwol Aug 30 '16 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ @zwol I disagree. The other question is asking for oxygen’s oxidation state. $\endgroup$ – Jan Aug 30 '16 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ @zwol so does mine. But a question should only be considered a dupe if the question is the same. $\endgroup$ – Jan Aug 30 '16 at 21:50

While I certainly agree with the outcome of Jan's assignment of oxidation numbers, I find it very necessary to point out that this is not the only possible assignment, not even the most common one.

I have discussed that in an answer to Electronegativity Considerations in Assigning Oxidation States. The official rules of the IUPAC indeed assign +1 to fluorine. This is counter-intuitive, as you stated, but that is the way the strict application of the rules give it to us. For me one of the most disturbing flaws of these rules. What you called an anomaly is indeed due to an incomplete set of rules.
I have laid out the difference of the assignment in my other answer to the topic in Oxidation state of oxygen in HOF.

It is absolutely necessary to know that there are two opposing systems out there and one should be aware of the flaws of each of them.
Furthermore, there is not really a correct way of assigning oxidation numbers, not even when you start considering fractional oxidation numbers. Hence there is also no way of correctly predicting oxidation numbers. They were introduced as a tool to better understand and keep track of the changes in the charge density. They usually do not come close to measured or calculated partial charges and they often oversimplify bonding situations of molecules.
Does that mean we should abandon the concept? No. It is a very helpful tool, especially when considering redox reactions. It gives you a formal framework to track a reaction and to make simple predictions.


There is no anomaly in here. Fluorine’s oxidation state in $\ce{HOF}$ is $\mathrm{-I}$ as the theory says. Hydrogen’s is $\mathrm{+I}$. This leaves oxygen with an oxidation state of $\mathrm{\pm 0}$.

That final fact is where the oxidative power comes from. Oxygen, the second-most electronegative element in the periodic table, has the same oxidation state as in molecular form. It is also bonded to an even more electronegative fluorine. Even in hydrogen peroxide oxygen would me more reduced. Thus, any reaction of $\ce{HOF}$ involves oxygen gaining electrons, not fluorine.

Remember that many sources on the internet can be wrong.

  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the explanation. Can you show any reaction of HOF where it acts as an oxidising agent so that the oxidation states might be justified? $\endgroup$ – Amritansh Singhal Aug 30 '16 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Well... the official instructions of the all-mighty IUPAC do indeed dictate an oxidation state of +1 for fluorine. Only the extended version (see here) will come to the more logical conclusion that you are reaching, which is technically not the common convention. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Aug 31 '16 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン There are instances when I don’t give a damn about what IUPAC says — e.g, they also propose double bonds in sulphones. $\endgroup$ – Jan Aug 31 '16 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think I made it clear what I think about these rules, but saying that sources on the internet may be wrong is absolutely misleading here. Especially because the common convention is the one proposed by IUPAC and found in almost all textbooks. And in that set of rules, fluorine's oxidation number is +1. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Aug 31 '16 at 8:11

Yep. Fluorine is -1, oxygen 0 and hydrogen +1. The sum of all oxidation states for a neutral molecule has to equal 0.


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