The properties of liquids are intermediate between those of gases and solids, but are more similar to solids. In contrast to intramolecular forces, such as the covalent bonds that hold atoms together in molecules and polyatomic ions, intermolecular forces hold molecules together in a liquid or solid. Intermolecular forces are generally much weaker than covalent bonds. For example, it requires 927 kJ to overcome the intramolecular forces and break both O–H bonds in 1 mol of water, but it takes only about 41 kJ to overcome the intermolecular attractions and convert 1 mol of liquid water to water vapor at 100°C. (Despite this seemingly low value, the intermolecular forces in liquid water are among the strongest such forces known!) Given the large difference in the strengths of intra- and intermolecular forces, changes between the solid, liquid, and gaseous states almost invariably occur for molecular substances without breaking covalent bonds.

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The properties of liquids are intermediate between those of gases and solids, but are more similar to solids.

Intermolecular forces determine bulk properties, such as the melting points of solids and the boiling points of liquids. Liquids boil when the molecules have enough thermal energy to overcome the intermolecular attractive forces that hold them together, thereby forming bubbles of vapor within the liquid. Similarly, solids melt when the molecules acquire enough thermal energy to overcome the intermolecular forces that lock them into place in the solid.

Intermolecular forces are electrostatic in nature; that is, they arise from the interaction between positively and negatively charged species. Like covalent and ionic bonds, intermolecular interactions are the sum of both attractive and repulsive components. Because electrostatic interactions fall off rapidly with increasing distance between molecules, intermolecular interactions are most important for solids and liquids, where the molecules are close together. These interactions become important for gases only at very high pressures, where they are responsible for the observed deviations from the ideal gas law at high pressures.

In this section, we explicitly consider three kinds of intermolecular interactions.There are two additional types of electrostatic interaction that you are already familiar with: the ion–ion interactions that are responsible for ionic bonding, and the ion–dipole interactions that occur when ionic substances dissolve in a polar substance such as water. The first two are often described collectively as van der Waals forces.


Dipole–Dipole Interactions

Polar covalent bonds behave as if the bonded atoms have localized fractional charges that are equal but opposite (i.e., the two bonded atoms generate a dipole). If the structure of a molecule is such that the individual bond dipoles do not cancel one another, then the molecule has a net dipole moment. Molecules with net dipole moments tend to align themselves so that the positive end of one dipole is near the negative end of another and vice versa, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{1a}\).

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Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Attractive and Repulsive Dipole–Dipole Interactions. (a and b) Molecular orientations in which the positive end of one dipole (δ+) is near the negative end of another (δ−) (and vice versa) produce attractive interactions. (c and d) Molecular orientations that juxtapose the positive or negative ends of the dipoles on adjacent molecules produce repulsive interactions.

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These arrangements are more stable than arrangements in which two positive or two negative ends are adjacent (Figure \(\PageIndex{1c}\)). Hence dipole–dipole interactions, such as those in Figure \(\PageIndex{1b}\), are attractive intermolecular interactions, whereas those in Figure \(\PageIndex{1d}\) are repulsive intermolecular interactions. Because molecules in a liquid move freely and continuously, molecules always experience both attractive and repulsive dipole–dipole interactions simultaneously, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\). On average, however, the attractive interactions dominate.