Science, Tech, Math › Science Steric Number Definition and Calculations What the Steric Number Is and How To Determine It Share Flipboard Email Print Sulfur tetrafluoride has a steric number of 5. Ben Mills 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. 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. Updated September 07, 2018 Steric number is the number of atoms bonded to a central atom of a molecule plus the number of lone pairs attached to the central atom. The steric number of a molecule is used in VSEPR (valence shell electron pair repulsion) theory to determine the molecular geometry of a molecule. How to Find the Steric Number Use the Lewis structure to determine the steric number. The steric number gives the electron-pair arrangement for the geometry that maximizes distance between valence electron pairs. When the distance between valence electrons is maximized, the energy of the molecule is at its lowest state and the molecule is in its most stable configuration. The steric number is calculated using the following formula: Steric Number = (number of lone electron pairs on the central atom) + (number of atoms bonded to the central atom) Here's a handy table that gives the bond angle that maximizes separation between electrons and gives the associated hybrid orbital. It's a good idea to learn the bond angle and orbitals, since these appear on many standardized exams. S# bond angle hybrid orbital 4 109.5° sp3 hybrid orbital (4 total orbitals) 3 120° sp2 hybrid orbitals (3 total orbitals) 2 180° sp hybrid orbitals (2 total orbitals) 1 no angle s orbital (hydrogen has an S# of 1) Steric Number and Hybrid Orbital Steric Number Calculation Examples Methane (CH4) - Methane consists of carbon bonded to 4 hydrogen atoms and 0 lone pairs. Steric numer is 4.Water (H2O) - Water has two hydrogen atoms bonded to oxygen and also 2 lone pairs, so its steric number is 4.Ammonia (NH3) - Ammonia also has a steric number of 4 because it has 3 hydrogen atoms bonded to nitrogen and 1 lone electron pair.Ethylene (C2H4) - Ethylene has 3 bonded atoms and no lone pairs. Note the carbon double bond. Steric number = 3.Acetylene (C2H2) - The carbons are bonded by a triple bond. There are 2 bonded atoms and no lone pairs. Steric number = 2.Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - Carbon dioxide is an example of a compound that contains 2 sets of double bonds. There are 2 oxygen atoms bonded to carbon, with no lone pairs, so the steric number is 2. Shape Versus Steric Number Another way to look at molecular geometry is to assign the shape of the molecule according to steric number: SN = 2 is linear SN = 3 is trigonal planar SN = 4 is tetrahedral SN = 5 is trigonal bipyramidal SN = 6 is octahedral Steric Number Key Takeaways In chemistry, a molecule's steric number is the number of atoms bonded to the central atom plus the number of lone electron pairs surrounding the central atom.The steric number is used in VSEPR theory to predict molecular geometry. Continue Reading Electron Domains and VSEPR Theory What Is a Lewis Structure? Definition and Example What Is Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion Theory? How to Draw a Lewis Structure Learn About Molecular Geometry Find Chemistry Definitions From A to Z Here's What a Coordination Number Is in Chemistry Draw a Lewis Structure of Formaldehyde Steps To Draw a Lewis Structure Using the Octet Rule Know the Carbon Dioxide Molecular Formula How to Draw Lewis Structures or Electron Dot Structures VSEPR Theory Definition in Chemistry Chemistry Vocabulary Terms You Should Know What Formal Charge Means in Chemistry What Is a Lone Pair in Chemistry? What Are Some Examples of Molecules with Hydrogen Bonding?