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Px Orbital vs. Py Orbital: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 28, 2024
The px orbital is an atomic orbital oriented along the x-axis, while the py orbital is oriented along the y-axis; both are types of p orbitals, which have a dumbbell shape.

Key Differences

Px orbital and py orbital are sub-types of the p atomic orbitals, which are oriented differently in space. The px orbital is aligned along the x-axis of a Cartesian coordinate system. In contrast, the py orbital is aligned along the y-axis.
Both px and py orbitals have the same dumbbell shape and energy level, but their orientation in space differs. Electrons in the px orbital have a probability distribution that is elongated along the x-axis. For electrons in the py orbital, this distribution is elongated along the y-axis.
The px orbital plays a crucial role in the formation of molecular bonds, especially in molecules where electron overlap occurs along the x-axis. Similarly, the py orbital is significant in bond formation when electron overlap happens along the y-axis.
In chemical reactions, the orientation of these orbitals affects how atoms interact and bond with each other. The px orbital may interact differently with other atomic orbitals compared to the py orbital, depending on the spatial arrangement of the reacting molecules.
Understanding the orientation of px and py orbitals is essential in predicting the geometry and properties of molecules. The spatial arrangement of these orbitals helps determine the molecular shape and the distribution of electrons in a molecule.

Comparison Chart

Spatial Orientation

Aligned along the x-axis
Aligned along the y-axis


Dumbbell-shaped, elongated on x-axis
Dumbbell-shaped, elongated on y-axis

Role in Bond Formation

Involves overlap along the x-axis
Involves overlap along the y-axis

Interaction in Reactions

Interacts based on x-axis orientation
Interacts based on y-axis orientation

Influence on Molecular Geometry

Affects geometry based on x-axis alignment
Affects geometry based on y-axis alignment

Px Orbital and Py Orbital Definitions

Px Orbital

Has a dumbbell shape with electron density along the x-axis.
Electrons in the px orbital exhibit a higher probability of being found along the x-axis.

Py Orbital

Essential in molecular orbital theory for y-axis interactions.
The py orbital is often analyzed in chemical bonding along the y-axis.

Px Orbital

Involved in sigma and pi bond formation along the x-axis.
In ethene, the carbon atoms' px orbitals overlap to form a pi bond.

Py Orbital

A p-type atomic orbital aligned along the y-axis.
The py orbital's orientation was crucial in the formation of the molecule's bent shape.

Px Orbital

Affects molecular geometry when interacting along the x-axis.
The orientation of the px orbital influences the molecule's spatial configuration.

Py Orbital

Exhibits a dumbbell shape with elongation on the y-axis.
In the py orbital, electron density is concentrated along the y-axis.

Px Orbital

A p-type atomic orbital aligned along the x-axis.
The px orbital of the carbon atom played a key role in the molecule's linear shape.

Py Orbital

Plays a role in bond formation along the y-axis.
The overlap of py orbitals in adjacent atoms facilitated a pi bond in the molecule.

Px Orbital

Integral in understanding molecular orbital theory.
Molecular orbital diagrams often include the px orbital to explain bonding.

Py Orbital

Influences molecular shape based on y-axis alignment.
Due to the py orbital's alignment, the molecule exhibited a planar structure.


What is a px orbital?

A px orbital is an atomic orbital that has a dumbbell shape and is aligned along the x-axis in a Cartesian coordinate system.

How does the energy level of a px orbital compare to s orbitals?

Px orbitals have a higher energy level than s orbitals in the same principal energy level.

Are px orbitals present in all atoms?

Px orbitals are present in atoms with atomic numbers 2 (Helium) and above, as part of the second quantum level.

Do px orbitals always point in the same direction?

The direction of a px orbital is relative to the molecule or atom's orientation, but it's always along the x-axis of the given coordinate system.

How does a px orbital differ from other p orbitals?

While all p orbitals have a similar shape, a px orbital is oriented along the x-axis, whereas py and pz orbitals are oriented along the y and z-axes, respectively.

What is the electron capacity of a px orbital?

A px orbital can hold a maximum of two electrons.

What is a py orbital?

A py orbital is an atomic orbital similar in shape to a px orbital but oriented along the y-axis.

Can px orbitals participate in chemical bonding?

Yes, px orbitals can overlap with orbitals from other atoms to form covalent bonds.

Are px orbitals symmetrical?

Px orbitals are symmetrical about the x-axis but have a nodal plane at the nucleus.

How does a py orbital differ from a px orbital?

The primary difference is in orientation; py is aligned along the y-axis, whereas px is aligned along the x-axis.

Do py orbitals have nodal planes?

Yes, py orbitals have a nodal plane passing through the nucleus and perpendicular to the y-axis.

What is the angular momentum quantum number of a px orbital?

The angular momentum quantum number (l) for a px orbital is 1.

What is the electron capacity of a py orbital?

Like px, a py orbital can hold up to two electrons.

What is the angular momentum quantum number of a py orbital?

The angular momentum quantum number (l) for a py orbital is also 1.

How do electrons in px orbitals affect molecular geometry?

The occupancy and arrangement of electrons in px orbitals influence the molecular geometry, particularly in forming angular or linear shapes.

How are py orbitals affected by the orientation of molecules?

The orientation of py orbitals is fixed along the y-axis, but their spatial orientation can vary depending on the molecule's overall structure.

Can py orbitals form pi bonds?

Yes, py orbitals can form pi bonds by side-on overlapping with suitable orbitals from other atoms.

Are py orbitals found in all elements?

Py orbitals are present in elements with atomic number 2 (Helium) and higher, as part of the second and higher principal energy levels.

How do py orbitals contribute to chemical bonding?

Py orbitals participate in covalent bonding through overlapping with orbitals from other atoms.

Are py orbitals degenerate with px orbitals?

Yes, in isolated atoms, py orbitals are degenerate with px and pz orbitals, meaning they have the same energy level.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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