Hydrogen Bonds: Definition, Types & Formation

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrienne Brundage

Adrienne holds a Ph.D. in Entomology from Texas A&M University, M.S. in Organismal Biology from San Jose State University, and B.S. in Plant Protection Sciences from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She has extensive teaching experience as a university lecturer, and has instructed coursework in topics ranging from research methods, forensic sciences, botany, zoology, cell biology, human biology, microbiology, and bacteriology.

Hydrogen bonds are electromagnetic attractions between the positive and negative poles of atoms. These bonds are weak and easily broken, but account for many of the important properties of things like water and DNA.

The Wonderful Properties of Water

Have you ever woken up early on a spring day and seen dew on a newly formed leaf? What a beautiful sight! But what makes those sparkling little drops of water sit so perfectly round? It has to do with the chemical properties of water. Specifically, it has to do with the types of bonds that water molecules have - hydrogen bonds.

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  • 0:00 Wonderful Properties of Water
  • 0:24 What are Bonds?
  • 1:11 Hydrogen Bonds:…
  • 2:45 Types of Hydrogen Bonds
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What are Bonds?

All things on earth are made of tiny particles called atoms. These atoms attach to one another to form all the stuff you see around you right now. Depending on what types of atoms are involved and how they attach to each other, that can tell you a lot about how any particular thing is going to act. There are a few types of bonds, some stronger than others. The strongest type of bond, the covalent bond, involves the sharing of electrons between two atoms.

Covalent bond between carbon and hydrogen

See the four hydrogen atoms, each sharing an electron with carbon? Can you imagine trying to break up that? The weakest type of bond is the hydrogen bond. Instead of sharing electrons, something that brings atoms really close together, hydrogen bonds are formed using the electromagnetic properties of atoms.

Hydrogen Bonds: Properties & Formation

A hydrogen bond is the electromagnetic attraction between polar molecules in which hydrogen is bound to a larger atom, such as oxygen or nitrogen. This is not a sharing of electrons, as in a covalent bond. Instead, this is an attraction between the positive and negative poles of charged atoms.

Look at this water molecule. See how big the oxygen is compared to those little hydrogens? Hydrogen atoms don't have the force necessary to pull electrons away from bigger atoms, so when hydrogen atoms are in a covalent bond with a bigger atom, the electrons tend to spend a little more time hanging around the bigger atom than the tiny hydrogen. That's positively lonely!

Of course, electrons carry with them a negative charge, so wherever electrons go, a negative charge follows. The result of this unequal sharing is a polar atom, an atom which has one end that is negatively charged and an end which is positively charged.

Now that we have a polar molecule, it acts just like a magnet. The positive end of one atom is attracted to the negative end of another atom. The result is a bunch of polar atoms lining up, end to end.

These are all polar water molecules, lining up end to end, and forming hydrogen bonds. Now, hydrogen bonds are pretty weak. There's no shared electron, so breaking a hydrogen bond is pretty easy. However, these bond account for a lot of important properties of molecules, including the phenomenon we know as water tension.

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