The Number of Bonds That Carbon Can Make and Its Ability to Make Chains and Rings
The number of potential organic compounds has been estimated at 1060—an astronomically high number. The existence of so many organic molecules is a consequence of the ability of carbon atoms to form up to four strong bonds to other carbon atoms, resulting in chains and rings of many different sizes, shapes, and complexities.
Some texts and other sources may use a dashed bond in the same manner as we have defined the hatched bond, but this can be confusing because the dashed bond is often used to represent a partial bond (i.e. a covalent bond that is partially formed or partially broken). The following examples make use of this notation, and also illustrate the importance of including non-bonding valence shell electron pairs (colored blue) when viewing such configurations. In the three examples shown above, the central atom (carbon) does not have any non-bonding valence electrons; consequently the configuration may be estimated from the number of bonding partners alone. For molecules of water and ammonia, however, the non-bonding electrons must be included in the calculation. In each case there are four regions of electron density associated with the valence shell so that a tetrahedral bond angle is expected. The measured bond angles of these compounds (H2O 104.5º & NH3 107.3º) show that they are closer to being tetrahedral than trigonal or linear. Of course, it is the configuration of atoms (not electrons) that defines the the shape of a molecule, and in this sense ammonia is said to be pyramidal (not tetrahedral). The compound boron trifluoride, BF3, does not have non-bonding valence electrons and the configuration of its atoms is trigonal. Nice treatments of VSEPR theory have been provided by Oxford and Purdue.
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