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Oxidation Number vs. Oxidation State: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sara Rehman || Published on November 25, 2023
Oxidation number is a formalism assigning charges to atoms, while oxidation state reflects an atom's actual electron loss or gain in a compound.

Key Differences

Oxidation number, a concept in chemistry, represents the charge an atom would have if electrons were completely transferred. Oxidation state, on the other hand, describes the degree of oxidation of an atom in a chemical compound.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023
The oxidation number is often used in ionic compounds where electron transfer is clear-cut. The oxidation state is more nuanced, reflecting the shared electrons in covalent bonding.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023
While determining the oxidation number, an assumption is made that the compound consists of ions. In contrast, the oxidation state considers the real-world scenario where electrons are not always completely transferred but shared.
Huma Saeed
Nov 25, 2023
Oxidation numbers are typically integers, but oxidation states can be fractions to denote average oxidation states in compounds with shared electrons.
Janet White
Nov 25, 2023
In simple ions, the oxidation number and oxidation state are the same. However, in more complex molecules, the oxidation state provides a more accurate representation of electron distribution.
Janet White
Nov 25, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Definition

Hypothetical charge on an atom assuming complete electron transfer.
Real electron loss or gain by an atom in a compound.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Use in Compounds

More straightforward in ionic compounds.
More accurate in covalent compounds with shared electrons.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Numerical Nature

Often integers.
Can be fractions to represent shared electron scenarios.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Electron Transfer Assumption

Assumes complete electron transfer.
Reflects actual electron sharing or transfer.
Janet White
Nov 25, 2023

Representation in Simple Ions

Same as oxidation state.
Same as oxidation number.
Janet White
Nov 25, 2023
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Oxidation Number and Oxidation State Definitions

Oxidation Number

The hypothetical charge an atom would have in a molecule or compound if electrons were completely transferred.
In NaCl, the oxidation number of Na is +1.
Sara Rehman
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation State

Indicates the degree of electron sharing in bonds between different atoms.
In water (H2O), oxygen has an oxidation state of -2.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation Number

A tool used in balancing chemical equations.
The oxidation number helps in identifying the reducing and oxidizing agents in a reaction.
Sara Rehman
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation State

Useful in understanding redox reactions in complex molecules.
Oxidation states help in analyzing the electron flow in redox reactions.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation Number

The apparent charge of an atom within a molecule or ion.
In H2O, hydrogen has an oxidation number of +1.
Sara Rehman
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation State

A description of the degree of oxidation (loss of electrons) of an atom in a chemical compound.
In CO2, the oxidation state of carbon is +4.
Sara Rehman
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation Number

A theoretical charge determining an atom's electron-donating or accepting capability.
The oxidation number of chlorine in NaCl is -1.
Harlon Moss
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation State

Reflects the sharing of electrons between atoms in covalent bonding.
The oxidation state of sulfur in H2SO4 can vary depending on its bonding.
Sara Rehman
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation Number

A number assigned to an element in chemical combination that represents the number of electrons lost or gained.
Oxygen usually has an oxidation number of -2.
Sara Rehman
Nov 16, 2023

Oxidation State

The actual state of an atom as defined by the number of electrons it has lost or gained.
The oxidation state of iron in Fe2O3 is +3.
Huma Saeed
Nov 16, 2023

FAQs

What's the primary difference between oxidation number and oxidation state?

Oxidation number is a hypothetical charge, while oxidation state reflects actual electron loss or gain.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Are oxidation numbers always whole numbers?

Yes, they are typically whole numbers.
Huma Saeed
Nov 25, 2023

Do oxidation number and state always match?

They match in simple ions but can differ in complex molecules.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 25, 2023

How is the oxidation state determined in a molecule?

By considering the real electron sharing between atoms.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 25, 2023

Can the oxidation state of an element vary in different compounds?

Yes, it varies based on the compound and its bonding.
Harlon Moss
Nov 25, 2023

Can oxidation states be fractional?

Yes, oxidation states can be fractional in compounds with shared electrons.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Is the oxidation number used in balancing redox reactions?

Yes, it helps in identifying oxidizing and reducing agents.
Harlon Moss
Nov 25, 2023

Does the oxidation number change during a redox reaction?

Yes, it changes reflecting electron loss or gain.
Janet White
Nov 25, 2023

How does the oxidation state help in understanding chemical reactions?

It helps to track electron flow in redox reactions.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Are oxidation number and state important in organic chemistry?

Yes, particularly in understanding electron transfer and bonding.
Harlon Moss
Nov 25, 2023

Can hydrogen have different oxidation numbers?

Yes, typically +1, but -1 in hydrides.
Harlon Moss
Nov 25, 2023

Is oxidation state considered in ionic bonding?

Yes, especially to determine electron distribution.
Harlon Moss
Nov 25, 2023

Are there exceptions to assigning oxidation numbers?

Yes, certain rules and exceptions apply, like in coordination compounds.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 25, 2023

How do you determine the oxidation number in a polyatomic ion?

By summing up the charges of the constituent atoms.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 25, 2023

Is the oxidation number applicable to all elements in the periodic table?

Generally yes, but its assignment follows specific rules for each element.
Harlon Moss
Nov 25, 2023

Is it possible for the oxidation number to be negative?

Yes, it can be negative if the atom gains electrons.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Does the oxidation number affect the chemical properties of an element?

It influences its electron-donating or accepting behavior.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

How is the oxidation state of oxygen generally represented?

Usually as -2, except in peroxides.
Sara Rehman
Nov 25, 2023

Can the oxidation state be zero?

Yes, in elemental forms of atoms.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 25, 2023

Can an atom have different oxidation states in the same molecule?

Yes, in complex molecules with multiple bonding scenarios.
Janet White
Nov 25, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sara Rehman
Sara Rehman is a seasoned writer and editor with extensive experience at Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Information Technology, she combines her academic prowess with her passion for writing to deliver insightful and well-researched content.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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