Chem Explorers

Molecular Symmetry and Polarity: Unveiling the Secrets of Chemical Behavior

Chemistry is a fascinating and complex field of study that deals with the composition, properties, and behavior of matter. In chemistry, one of the most important concepts is molecular polarity, which explores how the sharing of electrons between atoms can result in either polar or non-polar molecular structures.

The polar bonds and non-polar molecules are symmetrical or asymmetrical in shape, which further influences their reactivity, solubility, boiling points and melting points, and many other physical and chemical properties. In this article, we will explore how the symmetry of molecules is related to their polarity and how molecular shape and geometry contribute to molecular polarity.

1) Polar Bonds and Non-Polar Molecules

Atoms in molecules are held together by chemical bonds, which can either be polar or non-polar. A polar bond occurs when two atoms with different electronegativity values share electrons, and the electron cloud is shifted towards the more electronegative atom.

This results in a partial positive charge on one end and a partial negative charge on the other end, creating a dipole moment. Examples of polar molecules include water (H2O), Ammonia (NH3), and Hydrogen Chloride (HCl).

On the other hand, non-polar bonds occur when two atoms with identical electronegativity values share electrons equally, resulting in a neutral molecule with no dipole moment. Examples of non-polar molecules include Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), and Ethane (C2H6).

Symmetry of Molecules

The symmetry or asymmetry of a molecule depends on the arrangement of atoms around the central atom and the number of non-bonding and bonding electron pairs present. Symmetrical molecules have identical atoms or groups of atoms that are arranged uniformly around the central atom, while asymmetric molecules have different atoms or groups of atoms that are arranged in a non-uniform manner.

Molecular Shape and Geometry

The electron cloud around a central atom determines the molecular shape and geometry. This electron cloud can either be arranged tetrahedrally, linearly, or trigonal bipyramidal, among other geometries.

For example, the geometry of water molecule is tetrahedral, with two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom making an angle of 104.5 degrees. Similarly, the geometry of methane molecule is tetrahedral, with four hydrogen atoms around the central carbon atom.

2) BF3

BF3 is a molecule containing boron and fluorine atoms, and it has three polar C-F bonds. The difference in electronegativity values between boron and fluorine creates a polar bond between them.

The polarity of each C-F bond creates a dipole moment within the bond, resulting in an overall polar molecule.

Symmetrical Shape

Despite having three polar bonds, BF3 is a non-polar molecule due to its symmetrical shape. The three fluorine atoms are symmetrically arranged around the central boron atom, creating a trigonal planar shape.

Since each F-B-F angle is 120 degrees, the bond dipoles cancel out, resulting in no overall dipole moment for the molecule.


In conclusion, understanding the polarity of molecules is essential in predicting their properties and behavior, especially in organic chemistry. The polarity of a molecule depends on the electronegativity difference between the atoms within the molecule.

A polar molecule has an uneven distribution of electrons, creating a dipole moment, whereas a non-polar molecule has an even distribution of electrons, resulting in no dipole moment. Additionally, the symmetry of a molecule plays a significant role in determining its polarity.

Symmetrical molecules with polar bonds can cancel out their dipole moments, resulting in non-polar molecules, whereas asymmetrical molecules tend to be polar. Therefore, it is essential to consider both the shape and polarity of molecules when studying their chemical reactions, intermolecular forces, and other properties.

3) CO2

Carbon dioxide is a colorless gas with a chemical formula CO2, which consists of two oxygen atoms bound to a carbon atom. The molecule is linear, having a symmetrical shape, and is non-polar despite having polar bonds between carbon and oxygen atoms.

Electronegativity Difference

Carbon and oxygen atoms have different electronegativity values, with oxygen being more electronegative than carbon. The difference in electronegativity values between carbon and oxygen creates a polar bond between them, with carbon having a partial positive charge, and oxygen has a partial negative charge.

As a result, carbon dioxide has two polar C=O bonds that create two separate dipole moments.

Symmetrical Shape

Despite having polar bonds, carbon dioxide is a non-polar molecule due to its symmetrical linear shape. The two oxygen atoms are equally placed on opposite sides of the central carbon atom, resulting in a linear configuration.

Due to the linear shape, the direction of the bond dipoles is in opposite directions, which results in dipole moment cancellation, making the whole molecule non-polar.

4) PF5

Phosphorus pentafluoride (PF5) is a colorless gas consisting of five fluorine atoms surrounding a central phosphorus atom. The molecule has a trigonal bipyramidal shape and is non-polar, despite having individual polar covalent bonds between the phosphorus and fluorine atoms.

Individual Polar Bonds

Phosphorus and fluorine differ in electronegativity, with fluorine being more electronegative than phosphorus. The difference in electronegativity values between phosphorus and fluorine creates a polar P-F bond, with phosphorus having a partial positive charge, and fluorine having a partial negative charge.

PF5 has five polar P-F bonds, creating five separate dipole moments.

Symmetrical Trigonal Bipyramidal Shape

Although PF5 has five polar bonds, it is a non-polar molecule due to its symmetrical trigonal bipyramidal shape. The five fluorine atoms are evenly spaced around the central phosphorus atom, resulting in a trigonal bipyramidal shape.

The three axial P-F bonds cancel out the two equatorial P-F bonds, causing the dipole moments of the individual bonds to cancel out and resulting in a non-polar molecule.


In conclusion, a molecule’s polarity is determined by the electronegativity difference between atoms, creating either polar or non-polar bonds. A polar molecule has an uneven distribution of charge, creating a dipole moment, while a non-polar molecule has no dipole moment.

Symmetry is also an essential aspect of molecular polarity since molecules with symmetrical shapes can cancel out their dipole moments, resulting in non-polar molecules. In contrast, molecules with asymmetrical shapes tend to be polar.

Understanding molecular polarity plays a critical role in predicting a molecule’s properties, reactivity, and behavior in various chemical processes.

5) SF6

Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is a colorless, odorless, and non-flammable gas consisting of six fluorine atoms bonded to a central sulfur atom. The molecule has a symmetrical octahedral shape, and all of its bonds have a polar covalent nature, but the molecule remains non-polar.

Symmetrical Shape

SF6 has an octahedral shape, with the sulfur atom at the center, and six fluorine atoms located at the corners of the octahedron. The octahedral shape is symmetrical as all the fluorine atoms are equally spaced around the central sulfur atom.

The symmetry of the molecule ensures that the direction of the bond dipoles of the six strong P-F bonds in SF6 is in opposite directions, which results in the cancellation of individual dipole moments, making the molecule non-polar. This happens because the pull of the highly electronegative fluorine atoms on the sulfur atom is balanced by the six fluorine atoms surrounding the sulfur atom.

Dipole Moment Cancellation

The dipole moment of a molecule is the product of the electronegativity difference between the bonded atoms and the distance between them. In SF6, each bond between the sulfur atom and the six fluorine atoms has a polar covalent character, which creates a dipole moment.

However, all these dipole moments cancel out each other, resulting in a zero net dipole moment of the molecule. Therefore, even though SF6 has six polar P-F bonds, it remains a non-polar molecule.

Applications of SF6

SF6 is primarily used in electrical power transmission systems, as it has excellent electrical insulation properties. The high electronegativity of fluorine atoms in SF6, combined with the large size of sulfur atom, results in a relatively stable molecule that is unreactive towards many common chemical reagents.

The non-polarity of SF6 makes it an ideal medium for handling high voltage electrical equipment where contact with air or other gases may cause arcing or corona. It also has applications in the semiconductor industry, the magnesium industry, and as a tracer gas in geology and hydrology.

Environmental Concerns

Despite its practical applications, SF6 has a high global warming potential, with a half-life of approximately 3,200 years. This property of SF6 makes it one of the potent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and it can affect the earth’s climate when emitted in large quantities.

Therefore, strict control measures are implemented to minimize its release into the atmosphere, making it a controlled substance under the Kyoto protocol. Countries worldwide have developed legislation and industrial regulations to reduce SF6 emissions.


In conclusion, the symmetry of SF6 plays a crucial role in its dipole moment cancellation, making it non-polar, despite having six polar covalent bonds between sulfur and fluorine atoms. The ability of SF6 to remain stable and unreactive to many chemical reagents makes it a useful substance in various applications, especially in electrical power transmission systems.

However, its high global warming potential poses significant environmental concerns that need to be addressed via implementing strict emission control measures. In summary, this article has explored how molecular shape and symmetry play a crucial role in determining a molecule’s polarity.

We have learned that a molecule with symmetrical shape can cancel out the individual dipole moments of polar covalent bonds, resulting in a non-polar molecule. The understanding of polar and non-polar molecules is crucial in predicting chemical behavior and properties, and it has practical implications in many fields, such as industrial applications, environmental protection, and the semiconductor industry.

Takeaway from this article is that the symmetry of a molecule plays a crucial role in its molecular polarity, and the study of this concept is essential in understanding the properties of molecules and their behavior in chemical reactions. FAQs:


What is a polar molecule? A.

A polar molecule is a molecule that has an asymmetric charge distribution or dipole moment due to uneven sharing of electrons between atoms. Q.

Can a molecule with polar bonds be non-polar? A.

Yes, a molecule with polar bonds can be non-polar if the polar bonds are symmetrically arranged and cancel out each other’s dipole moments. Q.

Why is molecular polarity important in chemistry? A.

Molecular polarity is important in chemistry because it plays a crucial role in predicting a molecule’s properties, behavior, and chemical reactions. Q.

What are some practical applications of the knowledge of molecular polarity and symmetry? A.

Some practical applications of the knowledge of molecular polarity and symmetry include electrical power transmission systems, the semiconductor industry, and environmental protection. Q.

What can be done to minimize the environmental impact of substances such as SF6? A.

Strict emission control measures can be implemented to minimize the release of potent greenhouse gases, such as SF6, into the atmosphere.

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