A covalent bond involves overlapping of orbitals while an Ionic bond involves charge separation.

Why are bonds formed by the overlapping of orbitals weaker than charge separation; why is an ionic bond stronger than a covalent bond?

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    $\begingroup$ This isn't always true - for example the $\ce{H-H}$ bond has an enthalpy of 436 kJ/mol whereas $\ce{NaCl}$ has a 'bond energy' (lattice enthalpy divided by six $\ce{Na-Cl}$ 'bonds' for each Na or Cl atom) of 131 kJ/mol. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 23:48

2 Answers 2


In a fully covalent bond, you only have the mixing of the orbitals, as you said. But it's not only that, you also have coulomb interactions between the nuclei, that slightly raise the energy of the molecular orbitals, which results in asymmetric energies.

In a fully ionic bond you also have a coulomb interaction, but this time with the different sign, because you have a positive and a negative charge. These want to be as close together as possible, resulting in a stronger bond.

Generally speaking: Coulomb interactions have a greater impact than molecular orbitals on the energy, and thus the strength, of a bond.

It's almost like saying that electromagnetic forces are stronger than gravitational forces.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, that was so well explained, would you suggest me a good book for chemistry, I have a very bad chemistry teacher... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ There are many books around, I suggest browsing the science section at the next university bookstore and finding out which type of book you want to study things with. I use this one, it covers most of the stuff that I learned in my first year at university. $\endgroup$
    – tschoppi
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ If ionic bonds are stronger, then why in a salt solution, it's the salt's ionic bond that separates, but water retains most of its bonds despite having covalent bonds? $\endgroup$
    – NurShomik
    Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 18:13

Two atoms will always (with a few corner-case exceptions) form the strongest bond between them that they can.

If they form a covalent bond then that is because the covalent bond is stronger than the alternative ionic bond (at least after taking into account the ionisation energies). This is either because the covalent bond is strong (good orbital overlap) or the ionisation energies are so large that they would outweigh the ionic lattice enthalpy.

If they form an ionic bond then that is because the ionic bond is stronger than the alternative covalent bond. This is either because the covalent bond is weak (poor orbital overlap / mismatched orbital energies) or the ionisation energies are relatively small compared to the lattice enthalpy.

  • $\begingroup$ This is interesting, but does not explain whether covalent bonds or ionic bonds are in general the strongest. $\endgroup$
    – alexigirl
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 21:28

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