Lewis Structures or Electron Dot Structures

Diagraming elements of molecular structure

Nitrite ion
Two Lewis structures or electron dot diagrams for the nitrite ion. Ben Mills

Lewis structures, also known as electron dot structures, are named after Gilbert N. Lewis, who described them in a 1916 article titled, "The Atom and the Molecule." Lewis structures depict the bonds between atoms of a molecule, as well as any unbonded electron pairs. You can draw a Lewis dot structure for any covalent molecule or coordination compound.

Lewis Structure Basics

A Lewis structure is a type of shorthand notation. Atoms are written using their element symbols. Lines are drawn between atoms to indicate chemical bonds. Single lines are single bonds, double lines are double bonds, and triple lines are triple bonds. (Sometimes pairs of dots are used instead of lines, but this is uncommon.) Dots are drawn next to atoms to show unbonded electrons. A pair of dots is a pair of excess electrons.

Steps to Drawing a Lewis Structure

  1. Pick a central atom. Start your structure by picking a central atom and writing its element symbol. This will be the atom with the lowest electronegativity. Sometimes it's difficult to know which atom is the least electronegative, but you can use the periodic table trends to help you out. Electronegativity typically increases as you move from left to right across the periodic table and decreases as you move down the table from top to bottom. You can consult a table of electronegativities, but be aware different tables may give you slightly different values, since electronegativity is calculated. Once you've selected the central atom, write it down and connect the other atoms to it with a single bond. (You may change these bonds to double or triple bonds as you progress.)
  2. Count electrons. Lewis electron dot structures show the valence electrons for each atom. You don't need to worry about the total number of electrons, only those in the outer shells. The octet rule states that atoms with eight electrons in their outer shells are stable. This rule applies well up to period 4, when it takes 18 electrons to fill the outer orbitals. Filling the outer orbitals of electrons from period 6 requires 32 electrons. However, most of the time when you're asked to draw a Lewis structure, you can stick with the octet rule.
  3. Place electrons around atoms. Once you have determined how many electrons to draw around each atom, you can begin placing them on the structure. Start by placing one pair of dots for each pair of valence electrons. Once the lone pairs are placed, you may find that some atoms, particularly the central atom, don't have a complete octet of electrons. This indicates there are double or possibly triple bonds. Remember, it takes a pair of electrons to form a bond. Once the electrons have been placed, put brackets around the entire structure. If there's a charge on the molecule, write it as a superscript on the upper right, outside of the bracket.

Further Resources for Lewis Dot Structures

You can find more information about Lewis structures at the following links:

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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Lewis Structures or Electron Dot Structures." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/lewstructures-or-electron-dot-structures-607566. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 25). Lewis Structures or Electron Dot Structures. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lewstructures-or-electron-dot-structures-607566 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Lewis Structures or Electron Dot Structures." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/lewstructures-or-electron-dot-structures-607566 (accessed April 2, 2023).