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I'm learning chemistry and ionization energy is "[...] the amount of energy required to remove the most loosely bound electron, the valence electron, of an isolated gaseous atom to form a cation." It seems more intuitive to me to call this cationization energy. Other than historical reasons and convention, are there any reasons why it's not?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by M.A.R., Mithoron, Jon Custer, aventurin, airhuff Mar 25 '18 at 21:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ What about anionization instead? ;-) $\endgroup$ – MaxW Mar 24 '18 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ @MaxW It seems to me anionization energy would be the opposite - the amount of energy required to add a valence electron, right? $\endgroup$ – freeradical Mar 24 '18 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ The cat prefix does not add valuable information. Since language tends to be efficient there's no such prefix. $\endgroup$ – aventurin Mar 24 '18 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ Should be migrated to History of Sciences.SE $\endgroup$ – Abcd Mar 24 '18 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ The reason I ask the question is that I've found the concept confusing because "ionization" alone is ambiguous. I think cationization would be valuable information and immediately imply the direction of movement. The implication from the above comments is that my intuition is correct, so I appreciate the responses. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – freeradical Mar 24 '18 at 18:16
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Atoms can have electrons added to them or removed from them, which in turn ionises the atoms. However, electron addition and removal aren't the same thing in terms of enthalpy changes. The key here is the difference between the process and the enthalpy changes during the process - as much as an atom is ionised during the production of a cation or an anion, the enthalpy changes are different. Because of this, there are two different terms used for the enthalpy changes during these processes:

  • 'Ionisation energy' is the enthalpy change when one mole of gaseous atoms form one mole of gaseous positive ions (cations), under standard conditions,

  • 'Electron affinity' is the enthalpy change when one mole of gaseous atoms form one mole of gaseous negative ions (anions), under standard conditions.

As seen from the definition for 'ionisation energy', it's already described that there's a production of cations, so it would be redundant to call it 'cationisaion energy'. The word 'ionisation' in itself is typically used to describe the removal of electrons from an atom, which could also contribute to the term's name.


The reason why there are two different terms is due to how the electrons are dealt with during ionisation. The removal of electrons is always endothermic, whereas the addition of electrons is only sometimes endothermic.

When removing electrons, more energy is required than what's released to remove the electrons from the atom, hence why it's always endothermic. This is due to the Coulombic attraction between the negatively charged electron(s) in the atom's orbit and the positively charged proton(s) in the atom's nucleus. The required energy will increase with each successive removal, since the electrons will get closer to the nucleus and the attraction will increase because of it. This enthalpy change is explicitly called 'ionisation energy'.

When adding electrons, only the first addition is exothermic whilst the rest are endothermic. The first addition is 'easy'; you're just adding an electron to a neutrally charged atom, and the energy released during this process is greater than the energy required. However, with each successive addition, the energy required will increase. This is due to the Coulombic repulsion between the anion and the electrons, so more energy is required than what's released to 'force' the electrons into the atom's orbit, hence why successive electron additions are endothermic. This enthalpy change is explicitly called 'electron affinity'.

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  • $\begingroup$ It finally makes sense, thanks so much! By the way, I was just watching a Khan Academy video, and although Sal's no expert in the field, he makes the same remark about "cationization energy" at ~3:00 so this seems to be a common confusion: youtu.be/5CBs36jtZxY?t=3m $\endgroup$ – freeradical Mar 24 '18 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ It's called 'ionisation energy' for a reason. We can't think 'Oh, in this process cations are produced so we should call it cationisation energy...'. Maybe it could be called 'cationisation energy' like Sal said (emphasis on 'maybe'), however that would be redundant and unnecessary since the term 'ionisation energy' isn't ambiguous - we have a term for the opposite thing! No problem, by the way. $\endgroup$ – user60221 Mar 24 '18 at 20:47

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