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Chemical Bonding: Understanding How Atoms Stick Together

Atoms are the basic units of matter. They are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are found in the nucleus of the atom, while electrons orbit the nucleus.

Atoms are held together by chemical bonds. Chemical bonds are the forces that hold atoms together in molecules. There are two main types of chemical bonds: ionic bonds and covalent bonds.

Ionic Bonds

In an ionic bond, one atom loses an electron to another atom. The atom that loses the electron becomes a positively charged ion, while the atom that gains the electron becomes a negatively charged ion. The oppositely charged ions are attracted to each other, forming an ionic bond.

Ionic bonds are typically found between metals and non-metals. For example, sodium chloride (NaCl) is an ionic compound that is formed when sodium (Na) loses an electron to chlorine (Cl). The sodium atom becomes a positively charged sodium ion (Na+), while the chlorine atom becomes a negatively charged chloride ion (Cl-). The sodium ions and chloride ions are then attracted to each other, forming an ionic bond.

Covalent Bonds

In a covalent bond, two atoms share electrons. The shared electrons are attracted to the nuclei of both atoms, binding the atoms together.

Covalent bonds are typically found between nonmetals. For example, water (H2O) is a covalent compound that is formed when two hydrogen atoms share electrons with an oxygen atom. Each hydrogen atom shares its single electron with the oxygen atom, and the oxygen atom shares two of its electrons with the hydrogen atoms. The shared electrons are attracted to the nuclei of all three atoms, binding them together into a water molecule.

Other Types of Chemical Bonds

In addition to ionic and covalent bonds, there are other types of chemical bonds, such as metallic bonds and hydrogen bonds.

Metallic bonds are found in metals. In a metallic bond, the metal atoms share their valence electrons in a “sea” of electrons. The positive nuclei of the metal atoms are attracted to the sea of electrons, binding the atoms together.

Hydrogen bonds are weak bonds that occur between molecules that have hydrogen atoms bonded to highly electronegative atoms, such as oxygen or nitrogen. The hydrogen atom in one molecule is attracted to the negative charge of the electronegative atom in another molecule. Hydrogen bonds are important in the structure of many biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins.

How Do Atoms Form Molecules?

Atoms form molecules when they achieve a stable electron configuration. A stable electron configuration is one in which the atom has a full outer shell of electrons.

Atoms can achieve a stable electron configuration by losing, gaining, or sharing electrons. When atoms lose or gain electrons, they form ions. When atoms share electrons, they form covalent bonds.

The type of chemical bond that forms between two atoms depends on the relative electronegativities of the atoms. Electronegativity is a measure of how strongly an atom attracts electrons.

If the two atoms have different electronegativities, they will form an ionic bond. The atom with the higher electronegativity will gain electrons, forming a negative ion, while the atom with the lower electronegativity will lose electrons, forming a positive ion.

If the two atoms have similar electronegativities, they will form a covalent bond. The atoms will share electrons equally, forming a molecule with a neutral charge.


Chemical bonding is a complex topic, but it is essential for understanding the structure and properties of matter. By understanding the different types of chemical bonds, we can better understand the world around us.

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