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Does Nitrogen Follow the Octet Rule?



Nitrogen Usually Follows the Octet Rule

Nitrogen generally follows the octet rule. The octet rule is a helpful guide to understanding nitrogen chemistry. There are some notable nitrogen-based molecules that violate this rule. Typically, elements in the first two rows of the periodic table form compounds in accordance with the octet rule. Heavier elements and transition metals violate the octet rule much more often than lighter elements such as nitrogen.

Nitrogen Octet Rule Theory

Nitrogen’s outer electron shells contain a “2s” orbital and a partially filled “2p” orbital. The octet rule references the outer  ‘s’ and ‘p’ electron orbitals involved in molecular bonding. Two electrons occupy the s orbitals and another six occupy the p orbitals. Though an orbital corresponds to a single energy state, two electrons with opposite quantum spin can occupy each orbital without violating the Pauli Exclusion Principle. If you wonder how the p orbital contains a maximum of six electrons, remember that p-orbitals exist in p_x, p_y and p_z orientations. Each of those orientations can house two electrons. Neutral atomic nitrogen has a total of five electrons in its outer electron shells, three in the p-orbital. Gaining three more electrons from molecular bonding gives an energetically stable filled p-orbital. This thermodynamic “desire” for overall energetic stability is what generates the octet rule in nitrogen.  [1]

The Octet Rule Can Generate Ions

You may find nitrogen-based molecules such as nitrite containing a net charge. When electrically neutral, NO2 does not contain enough electrons to fulfill the octet in the nitrogen or oxygen atoms. An additional electron gives a stable octet at expense of adding an overall negative charge to the molecule, hence the “NO2-” ion.  [2]

Nitrogen Octet Rule Exceptions

Nitrogen oxide is among several nitrogen-based molecules that violate the octet rule. The molecule has 11 valence electrons, five from nitrogen and six from oxygen. There is no way to abide by the octet rule in this situation. The result is that nitrogen oxide is very reactive and chemically unstable on account of its unpaired 11th electron.  [3]



[1] Minnesota State University
Electron Configurations in the Periodic Table

[2] McGraw Hill-Chemistry
Chapter 9: Chemical Bonding 1: Basic Concepts

[3] University of California Davis
Violations to the Octet Rule


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