Let’s talk resonance in organic chemistry.  

Resonance in organic chemistry is one of the most fundamental and useful concepts you will learn in this class. Once most students hear this tip, it makes perfect sense to them, but it isn’t one that you might think of on your own.  Take a look at the structure below, and ask yourself: are the two N-O bonds in this molecule the same length?

resonance in organic chemistry

Since freshman chemistry, we have been told that double bonds between two atoms are shorter than a single bond between the same two atoms.  Hence, the N-O double bond should be shorter than the N-O single bond.  Spoiler: it is not.  But before we get into that, let’s look at some resonance forms of the nitro group at the end of this hydrocarbon:

resonance and bond length

Here, we can more clearly see that the nitro group is interconverting between the three resonance structures shown above.  Structure 3, where the charge is spread evenly between the two oxygens is a valid structure and shows that the bond two oxygen atoms in the molecule are equivalent and have the same bond length (124 pm).  This is shown here using the dashed bond, which you can think of as “half of a bond” for lack of a better term.


We care even more about this principle when it can be applied to more complex organic molecules where it is not obvious that the bonds are equivalent.  For example, the cyclopentadiene anion:

At first glance, this appears to have three different carbon atoms.  However, once you start looking at resonance structures, you can see that the anion can be moved to any of the carbons in the ring.  This makes them all equivalent, via resonance.  This is confirmed through analytical studies which show that all C-C bonds are approximately 137pm long.  Additionally, as this fits Huckel’s rule of 4N+2, the molecule is also aromatic.


Take Home Message: If you see symmetry or aromaticity, think equivalent bond lengths

 For more help with resonance, please see our homepage at organic chemistry



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