Site Loader

Learn about dipoles and dipole moments in this lesson. Understand the relationship between dipole moments and molecule polarity, and learn how to determine if a molecule is polar or nonpolar.


Let’s talk about some of the mysteries of the universe.

Best services for writing your paper according to Trustpilot

Premium Partner
From $18.00 per page
4,8 / 5
Writers Experience
Recommended Service
From $13.90 per page
4,6 / 5
Writers Experience
From $20.00 per page
4,5 / 5
Writers Experience
* All Partners were chosen among 50+ writing services by our Customer Satisfaction Team

Carbon dioxide and water are both very common molecules on Earth. Carbon dioxide molecules are almost two-and-a-half times heavier than water molecules, yet water is a liquid at room temperature and carbon dioxide is gas? What could possibly explain this crazy phenomenon?Let’s start solving this problem by looking at the structure of these molecules and where their electrons are. Nonmetal atoms like carbon, oxygen and hydrogen bond by sharing electrons in what is known as a covalent bond.

Sometimes electrons are shared evenly, other times one atom will hog the electrons. Uneven sharing of electrons results in the formation of a dipole. A dipole is best defined as a separation of charges between two covalently bonded atoms. The atom that hogs the electrons will have a partial negative charge, often represented with a lowercase delta and a negative sign. The electron deprived atom will have a partial positive charge, represented with a lowercase delta and positive sign. Arrows are also commonly used to indicate a dipole.

The arrow lies parallel to the bond and points towards the atom with the partial negative charge.Dipoles are determined by examining electronegativity values for bonded atoms. Electronegativity is the ability of an atom to draw electrons to itself. In other words, electronegativity values describe just how greedy an atom is for electrons.

You can determine the electronegativity of an atom by looking at a chart or using the general electronegativity trend for the periodic table. The more electronegative atom in a bond will always be the one with the partial negative charge. Draw the dipole arrow towards the more electronegative atom.

When two elements have the same electronegativity, there is no dipole.Let’s draw the dipoles for all the bonds in carbon dioxide and water using the Lewis dot structures. Which ways will the dipole arrows point?

dipoles for carbon dioxide and water

In the case of carbon dioxide, we have two dipoles. According to an electronegativity chart, oxygen is more electronegative than carbon, so we draw our dipoles pointing from carbon to oxygen.

In the case of water, oxygen is more electronegative than hydrogen, so both dipoles point from hydrogen to oxygen.

Dipole Moments

The next step in solving our conundrum is to determine the dipole moment. A molecule has a dipole moment when there is an overall unequal distribution of electrons across the entire molecule. Dipole moments are illustrated with a massive arrow pointing from the partially positive area of the molecule to the partially negative area of the molecule.Unfortunately, you can’t just glance at a Lewis dot structure and know the dipole moment. Generally, we must consider the shape of the molecule and the presence of lone pairs, too.A molecule like CO2 may be composed of two dipoles, but it has no dipole moment.

This is because the charge is equally distributed amongst the entire molecule. When molecules have an even charge distribution and no dipole moment, then they are nonpolar molecules. CO2 is a linear molecule, so our dipoles are symmetrical; the dipoles are equal in magnitude but point in opposite directions. Generally, when dipole distribution is symmetrical, there is no dipole moment. In order to get an accurate picture of this, we must visualize molecule shape. For a review on this topic, please see the video on VSEPR theory.

Some molecules like H2O may appear to be linear according to their Lewis dot structure, when in reality they are bent. Assuming H2O is linear might lead us to think it has no dipole moment because the dipoles appear to be equal in size and pointing in opposite directions.

Dipole Moment
dipole moment for water

However, when we draw the structure of H2O as bent, suddenly the dipoles are no longer perfectly opposite one another. The dipoles point towards oxygen, indicating that the oxygen is partially negatively charged.

The dipoles are equal in magnitude, so we can assume that the dipole moment bisects the space between the hydrogens perfectly, pointing towards oxygen. Molecules that have an uneven distribution of charge and a dipole moment are called polar molecules.Another clue that a molecule is polar is the presence of lone pairs. Water has two sets of lone pairs on oxygen, making that area particularly negative.

Finding the Dipole Moment

Here are some quick steps to determine the dipole moment of the molecule:Step 1) Obtain the Lewis dot structure for the molecule.

Step 2) Draw dipoles for each bond. Dipole arrows point towards the more electronegative element.Step 3) Predict the molecule’s geometry.Step 4) Look at the dipoles. Cancel out any of equal magnitude pointing in opposite directions.Step 5) Determine the dipole moment.

If all dipoles cancel out, there is no dipole moment. If dipoles cannot be canceled out, draw a large arrow pointing in the direction of the most negative part of the molecule according to your dipoles. This is your dipole moment.Let’s practice with a couple of molecules.

HF – Hydrogen Fluorine

Step 1) Obtain the Lewis dot structure for the molecule.Step 2) Draw dipoles for each bond.

Dipole arrows point towards the more electronegative element. I draw a dipole pointing towards fluorine.Step 3) Predict the molecule’s geometry.

The molecule is linearStep 4) Look at the dipoles. Cancel out any of equal magnitude pointing in opposite directions. There is only one dipole; I cannot cancel it out.Step 5) Determine dipole moment. The dipole moment is the same as the dipole.

Dipole Moment for HF
Dipole moment for HF


You will need the Lewis dot structure for CH3Cl.

For each of the carbon-hydrogen bonds, I draw an arrow pointing towards carbon. For the carbon-chlorine bond I draw an arrow pointing towards chlorine.This molecule is tetrahedral.I cannot cancel out my dipoles, because none of them are perfectly opposite one another.

My dipole moment must start in between the three hydrogens and point towards chlorine.

Dipole Moment for CH3Cl
dipole moment for CH3Cl

Polar and Nonpolar Molecules

Now we can solve our mystery from the beginning of the lesson. When a molecule has no dipole moment, like CO2, then it is nonpolar. When a molecule has a dipole moment like water, then it is polar.This polarity business is very important. Polar molecules are like little magnets, with a positive end and a negative end, and they interact with each other through magnetic attractions.

The positively charged poles of water are attracted to the negatively charged poles of neighboring water molecules. These types of attractions between molecules are known as intermolecular forces.The intermolecular forces that occur between polar molecules are known as dipole-dipole.Nonpolar molecules do not have charged areas like polar molecules and are only capable of forming weak intermolecular forces. These forces are known as London Dispersion Forces.

It requires more energy to break dipole-dipole intermolecular forces than London Dispersion Forces. Because of this, polar molecules like water have higher melting and boiling points than nonpolar molecules like carbon dioxide. Even though carbon dioxide molecules are heavier than water molecules, the fact that carbon dioxide is a gas at room temperature and water is a liquid stems from differences in polarity.

Lesson Summary

Covalent bonds occur when two nonmetal atoms share electrons.Electronegativity is the ability of an atom to draw electrons to itself.

A dipole is the uneven sharing of electrons between two atoms engaging in a covalent bond. Dipoles can be determined by comparing the electronegativity of the bonded atoms.Arrows are used to indicate dipoles; arrows point towards the more electronegative atom.

A dipole moment occurs when there is an overall uneven distribution of electrons across a molecule.The dipole moment of a molecule can be predicted by looking at the molecule’s structure and the location of the dipoles within the molecule. When a molecule has no dipole moment, it will be nonpolar. A molecule with a dipole moment will be polar.

Learning Outcomes

After reviewing this lesson, you’ll have the ability to:

  • Define covalent bond, electronegativity and dipole
  • Explain what a dipole moment is and the difference between polar and nonpolar molecules
  • Identify the steps for finding dipole moments
  • Describe how polarity affects the forces of attraction between molecules

Post Author: admin


I'm Eric!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out