Nonpolar Covalent Bond: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Ellen Ellis
When two atoms come together to share or take electrons, they do so in order to achieve a more stable, low energy state. Sometimes two atoms of the same element bond by sharing outer electrons. This is called nonpolar covalent bonding.

Nonpolar Bonding: A Chemical Tug-of-War

Have you ever played a game of tug-of-war that was evenly matched, where both sides pull as hard as they can but the rope mostly stays in the same place? That's what happens when the two teams are evenly matched. The same thing happens in a type of chemical bond called a nonpolar covalent bond.

A nonpolar covalent bond occurs when two atoms share electrons equally. They come together to bond because in sharing their electrons they are able to create an arrangement that is more stable and lower in energy than if they remained separate.

Why Do Atoms Bond?

Atoms bond with each other only when it will put them in a lower-energy, more stable state. Some atoms, notably the noble gases, are already stable and low in energy. They don't form bonds very willingly. The outer energy levels of the noble gases contain eight electrons (or two in the case of Helium). The outer levels are full, and therefore stable. Other elements become more stable when they have a full outer energy level of eight electrons (or two for hydrogen). Atoms form bonds according to the octet rule, which means to achieve a full valence or outer shell with eight electrons.

Sharing Electrons Equally & Unequally

How atoms come together to bond is dictated by the octet rule, but how they share the electrons within the covalent bond depends on the elements involved in the bond. How the electrons are shared is dictated by a characteristic called electronegativity. This is a measurement of how strongly an atom of a particular element pulls on electrons in a covalent bond.

Fluorine is the element with the highest electronegativity. In a game of tug-of-war, fluorine is the strongest competitor. Francium has the lowest electronegativity. You can think of poor francium as being the weakling in a game of tug-of-war, likely to end up on its face, pulled down by stronger competitors.

When two atoms of the same element, such as two hydrogens, come together to bond, an evenly matched tug-of-war begins. Each atom wants the shared electron to complete its outer energy level, but they pull on it equally. The bond is what we call a nonpolar covalent bond. If two different atoms come together to share electrons, like a hydrogen and a chlorine, one will have a higher electronegativity and will pull more strongly on the shared electron. The stronger atom will have the electron closer to it more often, but the two atoms are still sharing it. This is called a polar covalent bond.

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