Subshell Definition (Electron)

What Is a Subshell in Chemistry?

The f subshell, shown here, is partially full in atoms of Lanthanide elements.
The f subshell, shown here, is partially full in atoms of Lanthanide elements. DR MARK J. WINTER, Getty Images

A subshell is a subdivision of electron shells separated by electron orbitals. Subshells are labelled s, p, d, and f in an electron configuration.

Subshell Examples

Here is a chart of subshells, their names, and the number of electrons they can hold:

SubshellMaximum ElectronsShells Containing ItName
s02every shellsharp
p162nd and higherprincipal
d2103rd and higherdiffuse
f3144th and higherfundamental

For example, the first electron shell is the 1s subshell.

The second shell of electrons contains the 2s and 2p subshells.

Relating Shells, Subshells, and Orbitals

Each atom has an electron shell, which is labelled K, L, M, N, O, P, Q or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, moving from the shell closest to the atomic nucleus and moving outward. Electrons in outer shells have higher average energy than those in inner shells.

Each shell consists of one or more subshells. Each subshells is composed of atomic orbitals.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Subshell Definition (Electron)." ThoughtCo, Sep. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/definition-of-subshell-605700. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, September 10). Subshell Definition (Electron). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-subshell-605700 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Subshell Definition (Electron)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-subshell-605700 (accessed May 24, 2018).