Steps to Naming Ionic and Covalent Compounds

Updated on October 1, 2016

Why Do We Name Compounds?

Naming a compound gives us an easier way to discuss it in conversation. Just imagine having to say “aitch-gee-too-bee-ar-too dissolved in aitch-too-oh” and the like multiple times per conversation - it’s much more natural to say “mercury bromide dissolved in water”! Naming a compound properly gives us this ability to talk about a compound naturally without losing any information about the compound.

Naming Covalent (Molecular) Compounds

  • Recall that covalent compounds are those that involve more than one atom bonded together by the sharing of electrons. You’ll know for certain that you are dealing with a molecular compound if only nonmetals are present.
  • To name a covalent compound, you need the molecular formula, knowledge of the prefixes used for naming, and a way to look up the name of an element given its atomic symbol. With this information in hand, you can follow the naming scheme for covalent compounds:


Steps to Naming Covalent Compounds

  • First, identify the elements present.
  • Second, look at the subscript of each element to determine which prefix to use. (If an element does not have a prefix, assume that the subscript is “1.”
  • Third, apply the above naming scheme. (Note: If the prefix of the first element would be “mono-”, it is not needed.)

TIP!: Get used to what part of an element’s name is the “root” early, because it’s not always easy to tell by looking!

Naming Ionic Compounds

  • Recall that ionic compounds consist of a positively charged cation and a negatively charged anion.
  • Ions (of either variety) may contain either a single element or more than one element. (When an ion consists of more than one element, we refer to it as a “polyatomic ion.”)
  • To recognize an ionic compound, look for the presence of a metal or a known polyatomic ion- once you find one, you more than likely have an ionic compound.
  • When we name an ionic compound, we do not use prefixes; instead, use one following naming schemes:

Test Your Knowledge!

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    • profile image

      Choder 3 months ago

      Thanks bon

    • profile image

      Bob 11 months ago

      Maybe explain why each type of bond has a set of different naming rules

    • phriot profile image

      phriot 12 months ago

      Hi Jared. It's been a while since I've looked at my Hubs, so I didn't realize that I missed a rule here. Typically, if there is only one atom of the first element in a covalent compound, we omit the "mono-/mon-."

    • profile image

      Jared 13 months ago

      Hey phriot, I was just doing the quiz and ran into something that didn't make sense if we follow the rules you laid out. The rule said that for molecular compounds that only contained non-metals we use (# prefix) first compound + (# prefix) second compound, but in the quiz it wants carbon monoxide instead of monocarbon monoxide, and I'm just confused when the leading element gets the prefix, when it doesn't, and what rules there were surrounding that?

    • profile image

      Harry 14 months ago

      some simple and hard quiz questions would be nice

    • profile image

      rylie 15 months ago

      hi i'm a college student in South Dakota and I found this useful! more quiz questions would help! Thank you!

    • Prof Liway profile image

      Liwayway Memije-Cruz 2 years ago from Bulacan, Philippines

      I am teaching General Chemistry to Hotel Management and Tourism Management students in one of the universities in Bulacan...I am using on line method to make lessons easier for them. I found your hubs very interesting, useful and simple enough to substantiate my lessons. Congratulations and more power.

    • phriot profile image

      phriot 4 years ago

      Hi Key! I appreciate that you need help, but I'm not fluent in Spanish, so it would be difficult for me to communicate these concepts in that language. Good Luck!

    • profile image

      key 4 years ago

      necesito ayuda

    • phriot profile image

      phriot 4 years ago

      Thanks for the comment, Joe. The two question quiz I have here is the most I can do easily with this platform, but I'll work on either hosting my own and posting a link or providing a link to a good quiz in another location. I'm also hoping to have time soon to make a video where I work out an example or two live.

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      joe 4 years ago

      ya a legit quiz or two would be nice and some work-out examples would be amazing

    • phriot profile image

      phriot 5 years ago

      I notice that I'm getting a lot more views on this hub lately. To those that are new readers, what could I do to make this hub better for you? Would you like a quiz to check your knowledge? More worked-out examples? Add some color to spice things up? Let me know!