Common Names Ionic Compounds Positive Ions Negative Ions
Polyatomic Negative Ions Naming Polyatomic Ions Covalent Compounds Acids
Metals with Non-metals Non-metals with Non-metals

Long before chemists knew the formulas for chemical compounds, they developed a system of nomenclature that gave each compound a unique name. Today we often use chemical formulas, such as NaCl, C12H22O11, and Co(NH3)6(ClO4)3, to describe chemical compounds. But we still need unique names that unambiguously identify each compound.

Common Names

Some compounds have been known for so long that a systematic nomenclature cannot compete with well-established common names. Examples of compounds for which common names are used include water (H2O), ammonia (NH3), and methane (CH4).

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Naming Ionic Compounds

(Metals with Non-metals)

The names of ionic compounds are written by listing the name of the positive ion followed by the name of the negative ion.

NaCl sodium chloride
(NH4)2SO4 ammonium sulfate
NaHCO3 sodium bicarbonate

We therefore need a series of rules that allow us to unambiguously name positive and negative ions before we can name the salts these ions form.

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Naming Positive Ions

Monatomic positive ions have the name of the element from which they are formed.

Na+ sodium Zn2+ zinc
Ca2+ calcium H+ hydrogen
K+ potassium Sr2+ strontium

Some metals form positive ions in more than one oxidation state. One of the earliest methods of distinguishing between these ions used the suffixes -ous and -ic added to the Latin name of the element to represent the lower and higher oxidation states, respectively.

Fe2+ ferrous Fe3+ ferric
Sn2+ stannous Sn4+ stannic
Cu+ cuprous Cu2+ cupric

Chemists now use a simpler method, in which the charge on the ion is indicated by a Roman numeral in parentheses immediately after the name of the element.

Fe2+ iron(II) Fe3+ iron (III)
Sn2+ tin(II) Sn4+ tin(IV)
Cu+ copper(I) Cu2+ copper(II)

Polyatomic positive ions often have common names ending with the suffix -onium.

H3O+ hydronium
NH4+ ammonium

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Naming Negative Ions

Negative ions that consist of a single atom are named by adding the suffix -ide to the stem of the name of the element.

F- fluoride O2- oxide
Cl- chloride S2- sulfide
Br- bromide N3- nitride
I- iodide P3- phosphide
H- hydride C4- carbide


Practice Problem 4

Predict the formula of the compound that forms when magnesium metal reacts with nitrogen to form magnesium nitride.

Click here to check your answer to Practice Problem 4

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Common Polyatomic Negative Ions

-1 ions
HCO3- bicarbonate HSO4- hydrogen sulfate (bisulfate)
CH3CO2- acetate ClO4- perchlorate
NO3- nitrate ClO3- chlorate
NO2- nitrite ClO2- chlorite
MnO4- permanganate ClO- hypochlorite
CN- cyanide OH- hydroxide
-2 ions
CO32- carbonate O22- peroxide
SO42- sulfate CrO42- chromate
SO32- sulfite Cr2O72- dichromate
S2O32- thiosulfate HPO42- hydrogen phosphate
-3 ions
PO43- phosphate AsO43- arsenate
BO33- borate

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Naming Polyatomic Ions

At first glance, the nomenclature of the polyatomic negative ions in the table above seems hopeless. There are several general rules, however, that can bring some order out of this apparent chaos.

The name of the ion usually ends in either -ite or -ate. The -ite ending indicates a low oxidation state. Thus,the NO2- ion is the nitrite ion.

The -ate ending indicates a high oxidation state. The NO3- ion, for example, is the nitrate ion.

The prefix hypo- is used to indicate the very lowest oxidation state. The ClO- ion, for example, is the hypochlorite ion.

The prefix per- (as in hyper-) is used to indicate the very highest oxidation state. The ClO4- ion is therefore the perchlorate ion.

There are only a handful of exceptions to these generalizations. The names of the hydroxide (OH-), cyanide (CN-), and peroxide (O22-) ions, for example, have the -ide ending because they were once thought to be monatomic ions.

Practice Problem 5

The bone and tooth enamel in your body contain ionic compounds such as calcium phosphate and hydroxyapatite. Predict the formula of calcium phosphate, which contains Ca2+ and PO43- ions. Calculate the value of x, if the formula of hydroxyapatite is Cax(PO4)3(OH).

Click here to check your answer to Practice Problem 5

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Naming Simple Covalent Compounds

( Non-metals with non-metals )

Oxidation states also play an important role in naming simple covalent compounds. The name of the atom in the positive oxidation state is listed first. The suffix -ide is then added to the stem of the name of the atom in the negative oxidation state.

HCl hydrogen chloride
NO nitrogen oxide
BrCl bromine chloride

As a rule, chemists write formulas in which the element in the positive oxidation state is written first, followed by the element(s) with negative oxidation numbers.

The number of atoms of an element in simple covalent compounds is indicated by adding one of the following Greek prefixes to the name of the element.

1 mono- 6 hexa-
2 di- 7 hepta-
3 tri- 8 octa-
4 tetra- 9 nona-
5 penta- 10 deca-

The prefix mono- is seldom used because it is redundant. The principal exception to this rule is carbon monoxide (CO).

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Naming Acids

Simple covalent compounds that contain hydrogen, such as HCl, HBr, and HCN, often dissolve in water to produce acids. These solutions are named by adding the prefix hydro- to the name of the compound and then replacing the suffix -ide with -ic. For example, hydrogen chloride (HCl) dissolves in water to form hydrochloric acid; hydrogen bromide (HBr) forms hydrobromic acid; and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) forms hydrocyanic acid.

Many of the oxygen-rich polyatomic negative ions in Table 2.1 form acids that are named by replacing the suffix -ate with -ic and the suffix -ite with -ous.

Acids containing ions ending with ide often become hydro -ic acid
Cl- chloride HCl hydrochloric acid
F- fluoride HF hydrofluoric acid
S2- sulfide H2S hydrosulfuric acid

Acids containing ions ending with ate usually become -ic acid
CH3CO2- acetate CH3CO2H acetic acid
CO32- carbonate H2CO3 carbonic acid
BO33- borate H3BO3 boric acid
NO3- nitrate HNO3 nitric acid
SO42- sulfate H2SO4 sulfuric acid
ClO4- perchlorate HClO4 perchloric acid
PO43- phosphate H3PO4 phosphoric acid
MnO4- permanganate HMnO4 permanganic acid
CrO42- chromate H2CrO4 chromic acid
ClO3- chlorate HClO3 chloric acid
Acids containing ions ending with ite usually become -ous acid
ClO2- chlorite HClO2 chlorous acid
NO2- nitrite HNO2 nitrous acid
SO32- sulfite H2SO 3 sulfurous acid
ClO- hypochlorite HClO hypochlorous acid

Complex acids can be named by indicating the presence of an acidic hydrogen as follows.

NaHCO3 sodium hydrogen carbonate (also known as sodium bicarbonate)
NaHSO3 sodium hydrogen sulfite (also known as sodium bisulfite)
KH2PO4 potassium dihydrogen phosphate

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