To understand the basics of adding electrons to atomic orbitalsTo understand the basics of the Aufbau principle

The electron configuration of an element is the arrangement of its electrons in its atomic orbitals. By knowing the electron configuration of an element, we can predict and explain a great deal of its historicsweetsballroom.comistry.

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The Aufbau Principle

We construct the periodic table by following the aufbau principle (from German, meaning “building up”). First we determine the number of electrons in the atom; then we add electrons one at a time to the lowest-energy orbital available without violating the Pauli principle. We use the orbital energy diagram of Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\), recognizing that each orbital can hold two electrons, one with spin up ↑, corresponding to ms = +½, which is arbitrarily written first, and one with spin down ↓, corresponding to ms = −½. A filled orbital is indicated by ↑↓, in which the electron spins are said to be paired. Here is a shistoricsweetsballroom.comatic orbital diagram for a hydrogen atom in its ground state:

Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): One electron in.

From the orbital diagram, we can write the electron configuration in an abbreviated form in which the occupied orbitals are identified by their principal quantum number n and their value of l (s, p, d, or f), with the number of electrons in the subshell indicated by a superscript. For hydrogen, therefore, the single electron is placed in the 1s orbital, which is the orbital lowest in energy (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)), and the electron configuration is written as 1s1 and read as “one-s-one.”

A neutral helium atom, with an atomic number of 2 (Z = 2), has two electrons. We place one electron in the orbital that is lowest in energy, the 1s orbital. From the Pauli exclusion principle, we know that an orbital can contain two electrons with opposite spin, so we place the second electron in the same orbital as the first but pointing down, so that the electrons are paired. The orbital diagram for the helium atom is therefore


written as 1s2, where the superscript 2 implies the pairing of spins. Otherwise, our configuration would violate the Pauli principle.

The next element is lithium, with Z = 3 and three electrons in the neutral atom. We know that the 1s orbital can hold two of the electrons with their spins paired. Figure 6.29 tells us that the next lowest energy orbital is 2s, so the orbital diagram for lithium is


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with three unpaired electrons. The electron configuration of nitrogen is thus 1s22s22p3.

At oxygen, with Z = 8 and eight electrons, we have no choice. One electron must be paired with another in one of the 2p orbitals, which gives us two unpaired electrons and a 1s22s22p4 electron configuration. Because all the 2p orbitals are degenerate, it doesn’t matter which one has the pair of electrons.


When we reach neon, with Z = 10, we have filled the 2p subshell, giving a 1s22s22p6 electron configuration:

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Notice that for neon, as for helium, all the orbitals through the 2p level are completely filled. This fact is very important in dictating both the historicsweetsballroom.comical reactivity and the bonding of helium and neon, as you will see.

Example \(\PageIndex{1}\): Electronic Configuration of Phoshorus

Draw an orbital diagram and use it to derive the electron configuration of phosphorus, Z = 15. What is its valence electron configuration?

Given: atomic number

Asked for: orbital diagram and valence electron configuration for phosphorus


Locate the nearest noble gas preceding phosphorus in the periodic table. Then subtract its number of electrons from those in phosphorus to obtain the number of valence electrons in phosphorus.Referring to Figure Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\), draw an orbital diagram to represent those valence orbitals. Following Hund’s rule, place the valence electrons in the available orbitals, beginning with the orbital that is lowest in energy. Write the electron configuration from your orbital diagram.Ignore the inner orbitals (those that correspond to the electron configuration of the nearest noble gas) and write the valence electron configuration for phosphorus.


A Because phosphorus is in the third row of the periodic table, we know that it has a closed shell with 10 electrons. We begin by subtracting 10 electrons from the 15 in phosphorus.

See more: What Is The Least Common Multiple Of 18 And 27 And 18, Find Lcm Of 18 And 27

B The additional five electrons are placed in the next available orbitals, which Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) tells us are the 3s and 3p orbitals: