Reaction Definition in Chemistry

What Is a Reaction in Chemistry?

A chemical reaction changes substances into new materials.
A chemical reaction changes substances into new materials. GIPhotoStock / Getty Images

A reaction or chemical reaction is a chemical change which forms new substances. In other words, reactants react to form products that have a different chemical formula. Indications a reaction has occurred include temperature change, color change, bubble formation, and/or precipitate formation.

The major types of chemical reaction are:

  • Synthesis or Direct Combination Reaction - Reactants form a more complex product.
  • Decomposition or Analysis Reaction - A reactant breaks into two or more smaller products.
  • Single Displacement or Replacement Reaction - Also called a substitution reaction, this occurs when the ion from one reactant changes place with another.
  • Double Displacement or Replacement Reaction - Also called a metathesis reaction, this occurs when both cations and anions of the reactants trade places to form products.

While some reactions involve a change in the state of matter (e.g., liquid to gas phase), a phase change is not necessarily an indicator of a reaction. For example, melting ice into water is not a chemical reaction because the reactant is chemically identical to the product.

Reaction Example: The chemical reaction H 2(g) + ½ O 2(g) → H 2O(l) describes the formation of water from its elements.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Reaction Definition in Chemistry." ThoughtCo, Oct. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/definition-of-reaction-604632. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, October 13). Reaction Definition in Chemistry. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-reaction-604632 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Reaction Definition in Chemistry." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-reaction-604632 (accessed November 18, 2017).