What is the difference between a molecular compound and an ionic compound?

Molecular compounds are composed of atoms that share electrons, whereas ionic compounds are composed of atoms that transfer electrons due to an electronegative difference.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compounds are pure substances that are combinations of two or more elements. The most basic unit of a compound is the molecule, which is a combination of two or more atoms of different elements. Different elements have different properties, and hence, form different kinds of compounds. 

Elements have a property called electronegativity, which is the tendency of an atom of an element in a compound to attract electrons towards its nucleus. A more electronegative atom will attract electrons more. Hence, depending on the electronegativity difference, some compounds may be polar, while others not. For instance, `H_2` is non-polar since there are identical elements. Also, the `C-O` bond is more polar than the `C-N` bond due to higher electronegativity difference.

At some point, the electronegativity difference is so large that ions are simply formed.

A molecular compound is formed by sharing of electrons. Depending on the electronegativity, molecular compounds are either polar or non-polar. These kinds of bonds are called covalent bonds. Due to the presence of an actual bond, bonds in a molecular compound are directional - towards the nuclei of the atoms. Meanwhile, when the electronegativity difference is so large that ions are formed, we get ionic bonds in ionic compounds. Ionic bonds are not actual bonds, but are coulombic interactions between two full negative and full positive charges. Unlike the directional bonds in molecular/covalent compounts, ionic bonds are non-directional, and hence instead of forming discrete molecules, they form crystal lattices. In solution, if dissolved, molecular compounds will exist as individual molecules. On the other hand, ionic compounds will not be molecules, but rather solvated and separated ions.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team