chemical formula


chemical formula

Expression of the composition or structure of a chemical compound. Formulas for molecules use chemical symbols with subscript numbers to show the number of atoms of each element: O for molecular oxygen, O for ozone, CH for methane, CH for benzene. Parentheses may enclose atoms that act as a group. General formulas show the proportions of atoms in members of a class (e.g., CH for alkanes). If the substance does not exist as molecules (see ionic bond), empirical formulas show the relative proportions of the constituents (e.g., NaCl for sodium chloride). Structural formulas show bonds (see bonding) between atoms in a molecule as short lines between symbols; they are particularly useful for showing how isomers differ. A projection formula also indicates the three-dimensional arrangement of the atoms (see Fischer projection; stereochemistry).

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