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The Activity Series: Predicting Products of Single Displacement Reactions

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  • 0:08 Single Displacement Reactions
  • 0:43 Activity Series
  • 2:53 Predicting Products
  • 4:36 Examples
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Meyers

Amy holds a Master of Science. She has taught science at the high school and college levels.

Discover what a single replacement reaction is and how to identify it. Learn what chemical activity is, how that applies to an activity series table and how to predict the product of a single replacement reaction by referring to the activity series.

Single Displacement Reactions

In chemistry, elements react to form products. Certain elements react more easily with some elements than others. Scientists have made a table of things that react better than others, and this is called an activity series. In this lesson, you will learn about a type of reaction called single displacement and how the activity series helps you predict the product of a single displacement reaction.

A single displacement reaction is when one element replaces a similar element in a compound. A + BX --> AX + B.

Activity Series

The ability of an element to react with another element is called its activity. The easier it is for an element to react with another substance, the greater its activity.

Metals form positive ions from losing electrons; nonmetals form negative ions after gaining them.
Metal Nonmetal Reactions

An activity series, as mentioned previously, is a list or table of elements organized by how easily they undergo a reaction. For metals, the greater the activity, the easier they lose electrons, forming positive ions. With nonmetals, the greater the activity, the easier they gain electrons, forming negative ions.

In an activity series table, the element listed at the top can react with everything below it. But, elements below the top can only react with elements below them, not above. The activity series was developed based on experimentation, and although it is a guideline, like any set of guidelines, the rules or guides can be broken. You should also remember that any number of reactions can be written, but that doesn't mean they could all actually happen.

Here is the activity series for metals:

Metal Activity
Li
Rb
K
Ba
Sr
Ca
Na
React with cold water and acids by replacing hydrogen
React with oxygen forming oxides
Mg
Al
Mn
Zn
Cr
Fe
Cd
React with steam (but not cold water) and acids by replacing hydrogen
React with oxygen to form oxides
Co
Ni
Sn
Pb
Do not react with water
React with acids by replacing hydrogen
React with oxygen to form oxides
H2
Sb
Bi
Cu
Hg
React with oxygen to form oxides
Ag
Pt
Au
Mostly unreactive

Here is the activity series for halogen nonmetals:

Halogen Activity
F2 strongest oxidizing agent
Cl2
Br2
I2 weakest oxidizing agent

Predicting Products

The activity series helps you predict products of single replacement reactions. For instance, if you are reacting zinc with water at 50 degrees C, no reaction will occur because zinc only reacts with water when it is hot enough to steam, which is higher than 50 degrees C.

The steps to predicting a product are easy. First, identify the reactants and determine if they are a metal or a halogen. This will tell you which of the tables to refer to. Second, check the activity series table to see which of the elements is more reactive, the single element or the element in the compound. Lastly, write the product and balance the equation.

Try Sn + O2. Sn is tin, and according to the activity series, it will react with oxygen to form an oxide. So, 2Sn + O2 --> 2SnO.

How about Cu + HCl? The activity series says that if a metal is higher on the table than hydrogen, it will replace the hydrogen. But copper is lower on the table, so it can't replace the hydrogen in HCl, so no reaction takes place.

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