The 4 Types of Bonds Carbon Can Form

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  • 0:00 Why Carbon is Important
  • 0:40 Carbon's Molecular Shape
  • 2:10 The Three Covalent Bonds
  • 2:45 The Four Types of Bonds
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

From plant biology to human biology and organic chemistry, carbon is important to life as we know it. Unravel the chemical versatility of carbon, learning about its molecular shape and the four types of bonds it can form.

Why Carbon Is An Important Element

Hands down, carbon is perhaps one of the most important elements fundamental to living. A highly abundant element found on earth, you can find carbon's presence everywhere. It is located in the compound, chlorophyll, giving plants its green color. It is the building block for numerous organic compounds within our body, such as proteins, DNA, and amino acids (to name a few).

Of course, it is also found in numerous simple and complex organic compounds that are synthesized to make so many of the commercial products we use on a daily basis. What contributes to carbon's vast abundance throughout the earth? One reason may stem from the versatility of bonding with carbon. Before we address these different bond types, let's go over the molecular shape of carbon.

Carbon's Molecular Shape

Molecular geometry refers to the ability to view the 3D arrangement of atoms in a given molecule. Molecular shapes come in many flavors. You have bent shapes and trigonal planar shapes. There are shapes that can be linear. When carbon forms four bonds with atoms, its shape is called a tetrahedron. Diagram 1 shows the basic tetrahedron shape of a carbon atom. As you can see, it mimics a pyramid shape, a sharp point at the top and a wide base for the bottom. This is a great way to remember the molecular shape of a tetrahedron for any given molecule.

Diagram 1: Molecular Geometry of Carbon
carbon MG

Each of those four bonds extending out from carbon is available for other atoms to bond to. But why four bonds? Carbon has four valence electrons in its outer shell. However, when bonding to other atoms, it obeys the octet rule ensuring eight valence electrons in its outer shell are present. A valence electron is an electron that occupies the outer shell of an atom.

Each bond in a molecule equals two valence electrons. By doing some quick math we will see that if carbon obeys the octet rule, that means it needs four bonds (i.e. eight valence electrons) to satisfy this requirement. Keep in mind that the bonds we are discussing are called covalent bonds. Covalent bonds are created when two atoms share electrons (i.e. valence electrons) with each other. Let's look at three different types of covalent bonds.

The Three Covalent Bonds

Single bonds are a type of covalent bond formed from the sharing of two electrons between two atoms, one electron from each atom. Now this is quite different from double bonds. Double bonds are a type of covalent bond where four electrons are shared between two atoms. This leads us to the last type of bond, a triple bond. A triple bond is a type of covalent bond where six electrons are shared between two atoms. The take away with each of these bonds is the word 'sharing.' Remember this is the basis for covalent bonding.

Four Types of Bonds

Now that we know the shape of carbon (a tetrahedron) as well as the three broad types of covalent bonds, we can better understand the four types of bonds a carbon molecule can form. As we work through each type, check to make sure the total bonds present in a carbon molecule equals to eight valence electrons.

Type 1: Four Single Bonds. Shown in diagram 2, think of this bond type as your simplest of them all. It is the basic tetrahedron shape of a carbon molecule. There are four single bonds available for the bonding to four atoms.

Diagram 2: Carbon With Single Bonds
type 1

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