I really can't get my head around the fact that an element has to always become stable by bonding. Doesn't that mean that you can't actually find a pure element, and that it doesn't exist in it's true form? Because it will always be bonding? Does it mean that we are always looking at bonded atoms in the real world, and the actual true form doesn't exist? And what happens if there is, say, one atom left out and no other atoms left to bond with. Will it explode or die because it is unstable?

EXAMPLE: chlorine forms ionic bonds to become Chloride. But if it needs at always do that, doesn't it mean that we are always dealing with chloride? How can we ever have just chlorine when it always turns into chloride? And how long does it take to bond?

If what I've said is true (though I doubt it), then shouldn't we just study it in it's actual/final bonded form and have the bonded forms on the periodic table, rather than the one that hardly exists?

I've started to study for GCSE Chemistry but can't go further than the first chapter of ionic bonds etc. because this question keeps bothering me too much and I've become unable to study without knowing the reason behind this, and the consequence of atoms not bonding. I'm sorry if it's long but it feels like I'll go crazy and can't thank anyone ENOUGH who is able to answer this question. I can't find it anywhere on the internet :'(

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Your statement is not correct. Elements do not always become stable by bonding. All the noble gases (last group in the periodic table) do not usually form any compounds. You can get silver, gold, iron and a lot of other metals in their elemental form. You can find clorine gas as well. $\endgroup$ – Pedro O'Verde Mar 4 '17 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ Atoms can form bonds with same type of atoms, therefore biatomic molecules (halogens, oxygen, nitrogen..), molecular solids (sulfur, phosphorus,..), many metals are stable under ambient condition in pure elemental form. $\endgroup$ – Greg Mar 5 '17 at 13:14

What is this "actual true form" of an element that you are speaking of? If you're hoping to go around finding carbon atoms, oxygen atoms, ... you are out of luck, apart from the noble gases.

However, carbon atoms can bond to themselves, and the result is usually called graphite or diamond, which is pure carbon. Granted they aren't individual carbon atoms, but they're still pure carbon because all the atoms inside are carbon. $\ce{O2}$ is pure oxygen and is 20% of the air you are breathing right now. It isn't individual oxygen atoms, but both atoms are still oxygen, which makes it pure oxygen. Is that a sufficiently "true form" for you? If not, too bad, because to be honest: the oxygen atoms out there don't really care what you think. They're going to adopt their most stable form, and that involves bonding with other atoms. (Again noble gases being an exception.)

If there's one lone atom in the middle of nowhere, then it just sits there by itself (unless it's radioactive, which is another matter entirely). So, a better way of looking at it would be that atoms themselves are already stable, but they could be even more stable if they form bonds with each other. Atoms aren't alive and so they can't die, and it's not going to get depressed because it's lonely. Don't anthropomorphise atoms!

Anyway, it's called the "Periodic Table of the Elements" and the element is chlorine, not chloride. Why? Well, chemistry isn't restricted to how you find an element in real life. Just because most of the chlorine on Earth exists as chloride doesn't mean that that's all you can do with it. You can jolly well turn it into chlorine gas if you like (and tons of other things). Chemistry is really all about figuring out what you can turn it into. And what you can turn it into is decided by what the element is, not the form in which you find it naturally.

You're asking, shouldn't all chlorine just turn into chloride the moment you make it? Well, in whatever book you have been studying from, you should have noticed that chloride has a partner, for example a sodium cation $\ce{Na+}$. That's because chlorine took an electron from sodium to produce $\ce{Cl-}$ and $\ce{Na+}$.

Now if you make your chlorine gas, keep it in a glass container, and not let it go anywhere near sodium, where is it going to get that electron from?

| improve this answer | |

You will not see elements in their pure form- most of the time. Let's take the case of sodium, naturally it will always be found bonded to something else, oxygen, chlorine, fluorine, etc. Even if you buy sodium metal it usually comes in a bottle of oil because exposure to air will rapidly oxidize it in just a few seconds. It will also readily bond to water in the air which is very energetic.

If you have a compound of sodium chloride, you could separate the two by heating them to extreme temperatures, enough to break the bonds between the two. You would be left with ionized chlorine and sodium gas in this case. One electron from the sodium would be left with the chlorine.

An exception is the noble gasses, they are an exception. They don't tend to bond to anything so they do exist in elemental form, but for that same reason we never studied much about them in chemistry. Also metals can be found in elemental form, but they form metallic bonds so I'm not sure if that would count as it's "true form" to you.

Now for the "if one atom is left out" part. Let's consider a box full of hydrogen and oxygen in almost perfect proportion to form water with no limiting reagent, except there's a few atoms short of hydrogen, what will happen to the leftover oxygen that has nothing to bond with? It would simply bond with the other oxygen atoms to make O$_2$. Okay so what if there's just a single oxygen atom left with nothing to bond to? I don't know exactly what a single oxygen atom would do in this case since this isn't a realistic situation nor is it relevant, but I can tell you it won't explode. In the real world bonds would be breaking and forming all the time in this system, I could go a lot more into detail about this but to keep it simple and brief, it would probably end up like this: $H_2O + O^{2-} \rightarrow 2OH^-$

So yes, you are right, most of the time you won't come across elements in their elemental form. Atoms like to bond to become more stable. In my experience, early on elements are studied in elemental form to learn the mechanisms of how atoms bond. But as I got into more advanced topics of chemistry, we would move away from that and study compounds the same way they would naturally exist in the real world. Hope this helped, let me know if I left anything out.

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ I see elemental oxygen, nitrogen.. every day. $\endgroup$ – Greg Mar 5 '17 at 13:15

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