Science, Tech, Math › Science Reversible Reaction Definition and Examples Share Flipboard Email Print Lumina Imaging/Getty Images Science Chemistry Chemical Laws Basics Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Medical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Chemistry Expert Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Updated August 19, 2019 A reversible reaction is a chemical reaction where the reactants form products that, in turn, react together to give the reactants back. Reversible reactions will reach an equilibrium point where the concentrations of the reactants and products will no longer change. A reversible reaction is denoted by a double arrow pointing both directions in a chemical equation. For example, a two reagent, two product equation would be written as A + B ⇆ C + D Notation Bidirectional harpoons or double arrows (⇆) should be used to indicate reversible reactions, with the double-sided arrow (↔) reserved for resonance structures, but online you'll most likely encounter arrows in equations, simply because it's easier to code. When you write on paper, the proper form is to use the harpoon or double arrow notation. Example of a Reversible Reaction Weak acids and bases may undergo reversible reactions. For example, carbonic acid and water react this way: H2CO3 (l) + H2O(l) ⇌ HCO−3 (aq) + H3O+(aq) Another example of a reversible reaction is: N2O4 ⇆ 2 NO2 Two chemical reactions occur simultaneously: N2O4 → 2 NO2 2 NO2 → N2O4 Reversible reactions do not necessarily occur at the same rate in both directions, but they do lead to an equilibrium condition. If dynamic equilibrium occurs, the product of one reaction is forming at the same rate as it is used up for the reverse reaction. Equilibrium constants are calculated or provided to help determine how much reactant and product is formed. The equilibrium of a reversible reaction depends on the initial concentrations of the reactants and products and the equilibrium constant, K. How a Reversible Reaction Works Most reactions encountered in chemistry are irreversible reactions (or reversible, but with very little product converting back into reactant). For example, if you burn a piece of wood using the combustion reaction, you never see the ash spontaneously make new wood, do you? Yet, some reactions do reverse. How does this work? The answer has to do with the energy output of each reaction and that required for it to occur. In a reversible reaction, reacting molecules in a closed system collide with each other and use the energy to break chemical bonds and form new products. Enough energy is present in the system for the same process to occur with the products. Bonds are broken and new ones formed, that happen to result in the initial reactants. Fun Fact At one time, scientists believed all chemical reactions were irreversible reactions. In 1803, Berthollet proposed the idea of a reversible reaction after observing the formation of sodium carbonate crystals on the edge of a salt lake in Egypt. Berthollet believed excess salt in the lake pushed the formation of sodium carbonate, which could then react again to form sodium chloride and calcium carbonate: 2NaCl + CaCO3 ⇆ Na2CO3 + CaCl2 Waage and Guldberg quantified Berthollet's observation with the law of mass action that they proposed in 1864.