Covalent or Molecular Compound Properties

Properties and Characteristics of Covalent Compounds

Water is an example of a molecular compound, containing covalent bonds.
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Covalent or molecular compounds contain atoms held together by covalent bonds. These bonds form when the atoms share electrons because they have similar electronegativity values. Covalent compounds are a diverse group of molecules, so there are several exceptions to each 'rule'. When looking at a compound and trying to determine whether it is an ionic compound or a covalent compound, it's best to examine several properties of the sample. These are properties of covalent compounds.

Key Takeaways: Properties of Covalent Compounds

  • The atoms of covalent compounds or molecular compounds are connected via covalent bonds.
  • Because covalent bonds are weaker than ionic bonds, covalent compounds typically have lower melting points and boiling points.
  • Most covalent compounds are fairly soft and flexible because covalent compounds are not very rigid.
  • Covalent compounds usually don't dissolve in water, unless they are polar compounds.
  • When they do dissolve, these compounds don't dissociate into ions. So, they are generally poor conductors of electricity (non-electrolytes).

Properties of Covalent Compounds

  • Most covalent compounds have relatively low melting points and boiling points.
    While the ions in an ionic compound are strongly attracted to each other, covalent bonds create molecules that can separate from each other when a lower amount of energy is added to them. Therefore, molecular compounds usually have low melting and boiling points.
  • Covalent compounds usually have lower enthalpies of fusion and vaporization than ionic compounds.
    The enthalpy of fusion is the amount of energy needed, at constant pressure, to melt one mole of a solid substance. The enthalpy of vaporization is the amount of energy, at constant pressure, required to vaporize one mole of a liquid. On average, it takes only 1% to 10% as much heat to change the phase of a molecular compound as it does for an ionic compound.
  • Covalent compounds tend to be soft and relatively flexible.
    This is largely because covalent bonds are relatively flexible and easy to break. The covalent bonds in molecular compounds cause these compounds to take form as gases, liquids, and soft solids. As with many properties, there are exceptions, primarily when molecular compounds assume crystalline forms.
  • Covalent compounds tend to be more flammable than ionic compounds.
    Many flammable substances contain hydrogen and carbon atoms which can undergo combustion, a reaction that releases energy when the compound reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water. Carbon and hydrogen have comparable electronegativities so they are found together in many molecular compounds.
  • When dissolved in water, covalent compounds don't conduct electricity.
    Ions are needed to conduct electricity in an aqueous solution. Molecular compounds dissolve into molecules rather than dissociate into ions, so they typically do not conduct electricity very well when dissolved in water.
  • Many covalent compounds don't dissolve well in water.
    There are many exceptions to this rule, just as there are many salts (ionic compounds) that don't dissolve well in water. However, many covalent compounds are polar molecules that do dissolve well in a polar solvent, such as water. Examples of molecular compounds that dissolve well in water are sugar and ethanol. Examples of molecular compounds that don't dissolve well in water are oil and polymerized plastic.

Note that network solids are compounds containing covalent bonds that violate some of these "rules". Diamond, for example, consists of carbon atoms held together by covalent bonds in a crystalline structure. Network solids typically are transparent, hard, good insulators and have high melting points.

Learn More

Do you need to know more? Learn the difference between an ionic and covalent bond, get examples of covalent compounds, and understand how to predict formulas of compounds containing polyatomic ions.

Sources

  • Bruice, Paula (2016). Organic Chemistry (8th ed.). Pearson. ISBN 978-0-13-404228-2.
  • March, Jerry (1992). Advanced Organic Chemistry: Reactions, Mechanisms, and Structure. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-60180-2.
  • Stranks, D. R.; Heffernan, M. L.; Lee Dow, K. C.; McTigue, P. T.; Withers, G. R. A. (1970). Chemistry: A Structural View. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-83988-6.
  • Weinhold, F.; Landis, C. (2005). Valency and Bonding. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521831288.
  • Whitten, Kenneth W.; Gailey, Kenneth D.; Davis, Raymond E. (1992). "Formation of covalent bonds". General Chemistry (4th ed.). Saunders College Publishing. ISBN 0-03-072373-6.
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Covalent or Molecular Compound Properties." ThoughtCo, Sep. 2, 2022, thoughtco.com/covalent-or-molecular-compound-properties-608495. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2022, September 2). Covalent or Molecular Compound Properties. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/covalent-or-molecular-compound-properties-608495 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Covalent or Molecular Compound Properties." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/covalent-or-molecular-compound-properties-608495 (accessed September 27, 2022).

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