Chem Explorers

Sulfur: Electron Configuration Orbital Diagram and Valence Electrons Explained

Electron configuration of Sulfur

Sulfur, an essential chemical element with the symbol S and atomic number 16, is a non-metal, abundant in nature, and has six stable isotopes. The electron configuration of an atom describes how the electrons are distributed in the atom’s energy levels.

The distribution of electrons in the energy levels determines the atom’s reactivity, stability, and chemical properties.

Aufbau principle


Aufbau principle, also known as the building-up principle, states that electrons fill the lowest available energy levels before occupying the higher ones. According to this principle, the electrons fill the energy levels in the order of their increasing energy.

The energy level sequence is 1s, 2s, 2p, 3s, 3p, 4s, 3d, 4p, 5s, 4d, 5p, 6s, 4f, 5d, 6p, and 7s.

Subshells and maximum electron capacity

In each energy level, there are a specific number of subshells or orbitals that can accommodate a maximum number of electrons. The subshells in an energy level are denoted by letters, s, p, d, f, etc., with each subshell having a different shape and orientation.

The maximum number of electrons that a subshell can hold is determined by the formula 2n, where n is the principal quantum number of the energy level. For example, the first energy level (n=1) can only have one subshell, which is denoted by the letter s, and can accommodate a maximum of two electrons.

The second energy level (n=2) has two subshells, s and p. The s subshell can contain a maximum of two electrons, while the p subshell can hold up to six electrons.

Electron configuration using the

Aufbau principle

To determine the electron configuration of an atom, we fill the subshells in order of their increasing energy, starting from the lowest available energy level. For sulfur, which has 16 electrons, the electron configuration is:

1s 2s 2p 3s 3p

We can easily determine the electron configuration by following the

Aufbau principle, which tells us that the s subshells will be filled first, followed by the p subshells.

Orbital diagram of Sulfur

An orbital diagram is a pictorial representation of an atom’s electron arrangement. It shows how the electrons are distributed in each subshell using arrows, with each arrow representing one electron’s spin.

The direction of the arrow shows the electron’s spin, with an upward-pointing arrow representing a spin-up electron and a downward-pointing arrow representing a spin-down electron.

Rules for constructing orbital diagram

Three rules govern how electrons can occupy the subshells in an atom’s electron arrangement, and they are:

1. The

Aufbau principle: Electrons fill energy levels in order of increasing energy.

2. Pauli’s exclusion principle: No two electrons in an atom can have the same set of four quantum numbers.

3. Hund’s rule: In a set of degenerate orbitals, electrons occupy the orbitals singly, with parallel spins, before pairing.

Sulfur’s orbital diagram

To create the orbital diagram for sulfur, we first write the electron configuration in terms of the energy levels and subshells:

1s 2s 2p 3s 3p

The s and p subshells’ orbital diagrams are:






The arrows represent the electrons in each subshell, with the direction of the arrow representing the electron spin.


Understanding the electron configuration and orbital diagram of an atom is crucial in predicting its chemical and physical properties. The electron configuration helps us to determine the number of valence electrons an element has, which is related to its bonding capability.

The orbital diagram gives us a visual representation of the electron arrangement in an atom, which makes it easier to remember, and understand how electrons occupy the subshells. By understanding these concepts, we can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the behavior of atoms and their interactions in chemical reactions.

Valence electrons of Sulfur

Definition of valence electrons

Valence electrons are the outermost electrons that are responsible for an atom’s chemical properties and reactivity. They are located in the highest energy level, also known as the valence shell.

Valence electrons are the only electrons that participate in the formation of chemical bonds, either by gaining, losing, or sharing electrons with other atoms to achieve a stable electron configuration.

Determining valence electrons from group number

The group number (also known as the column number) of an element in the periodic table indicates the number of valence electrons that an atom of that element has. The periodic table is divided into groups or columns based on the elements’ similar chemical properties, and each group has a specific number of valence electrons associated with it.

For example, the elements in Group 1 (alkali metals) have one valence electron, while those in Group 18 (noble gases) have eight valence electrons.

Valence electrons in Sulfur

Sulfur is a member of Group 16 in the periodic table, also known as the chalcogens. The elements in Group 16 have six valence electrons, except for oxygen, which has eight valence electrons.

Sulfur, therefore, has six valence electrons in its outermost shell. Sulfur’s electron configuration in different forms

In its ground state, sulfur’s electron configuration is

1s 2s 2p 3s 3p, which shows that it has six valence electrons. However, sulfur can also exist in excited states, where one or more of its electrons are promoted to a higher energy level.

For example, the electron configuration for excited-state sulfur is

1s 2s 2p 3s 3p 3d. This excited state configuration shows that one electron has been promoted from the 3p subshell to the 3d subshell.

This promotion happens because the 3d subshell has a slightly higher energy than the 3p subshell.

There is also a shorthand way to represent the electron configuration of Sulfur, which is written as [Ne] 3s 3p.

The [Ne] represents the electron configuration of the nearest noble gas, which is neon (1s 2s 2p). The shorthand notation is useful in displaying the valence electrons more clearly, as the six valence electrons are in the 3s and 3p subshells.

Orbital diagram for Sulfur

The orbital diagram using the

Aufbau principle and Pauli’s exclusion principle for Sulfur can be represented as






The arrows represent the electrons in each subshell, with the direction of the arrow indicating the electron spin.

Number of valence electrons in Sulfur

In sulfur’s electron configuration, the outermost shell is the 3s and 3p subshells, which contain a total of six valence electrons. These six electrons are responsible for sulfur’s chemical properties and its reactivity towards other atoms or molecules.

Sulfur can participate in the formation of chemical bonds, either by gaining two electrons to form the stable S ion or sharing electrons to form covalent compounds. Summary of electron configuration, orbital diagram, and valence electrons of Sulfur

Sulfur, a non-metal element, has an electron configuration of

1s 2s 2p 3s 3p, which indicates it has six valence electrons in its outermost shell. The valence electrons of sulfur can be determined from its position in the periodic table, as it belongs to Group 16, which has six valence electrons.

Sulfur can also exist in excited states, where electrons are promoted to higher energy levels, resulting in a different electron configuration. The orbital diagram of sulfur shows six valence electrons in the 3s and 3p subshells.

Understanding the electron configuration, orbital diagram, and valence electrons of sulfur is essential in predicting its behavior in chemical reactions and its interactions with other atoms. In this article, we have discussed the electron configuration, orbital diagram, and valence electrons of sulfur, an essential element in chemistry.

The electron configuration and orbital diagram help us understand the distribution of electrons in the energy levels and subshells, while the valence electrons determine the element’s reactivity and chemical properties. Knowing the importance of these concepts contributes to understanding sulfur’s interactions and reactions with other elements.

Remembering the

Aufbau principle, Pauli’s exclusion principle, and Hund’s rule, as well as knowing which Group sulfur belongs to in the periodic table, is fundamental when studying the electronic structure of elements.


Q: What are subshells? A: Subshells are sub-levels within each principal energy level that further characterize the distribution of electrons’ energy.

Q: Why is the understanding of element electron configuration and valence electrons important in chemistry? A: Understanding electron configuration and valence electrons in elements gives us a better insight into their interactions and chemical behavior, including how elements bond and react with other elements.

Q: What is the

Aufbau principle, and how is it important in studying electron configuration? A: The

Aufbau principle describes the order in which subshells fill with electrons, from the lowest energy levels to the highest.

Following this principle enables us to determine the electron configuration of any element. Q: How are valence electrons of an element determined?

A: An element’s valence electrons can be found by its group number on the periodic table. For example, sulfur, located in the 16th group, has six valence electrons.

Q: What is the difference between an electron configuration and an orbital diagram? A: An electron configuration provides the numerical representation of electron distribution in the subshells of an atom, whereas an orbital diagram represents the same information pictorially.

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