Empirical formula

In chemistry, the empirical formula of a chemical compound is the simplest whole number ratio of atoms of each element present in a compound.[1] An empirical formula makes no reference to isomerism, structure, or absolute number of atoms. The empirical formula is used as standard for most ionic compounds, such as CaCl2, and for macromolecules, such as SiO2. The term empirical refers to the process of elemental analysis, a technique of analytical chemistry used to determine the relative amounts of each element in a chemical compound.

In contrast, the molecular formula identifies the number of each type of atom in a molecule, and the structural formula also shows the structure of the molecule.

For example, the chemical compound n-hexane has the structural formula CH3CH2CH2CH2CH2CH3, which shows that it has 6 carbon atoms arranged in a chain, and 14 hydrogen atoms. Hexane's molecular formula is C6H14, and its empirical formula is C3H7, showing a C:H ratio of 3:7. Different compounds can have the same empirical formula. For example, formaldehyde, acetic acid and glucose have the same empirical formula, CH2O. This is the actual molecular formula for formaldehyde, but acetic acid has double the number of atoms and glucose has six times the number of atoms.


Examples of common substances

Substance Molecular formula Empirical formula
Water H2O H2O
Methane CH4 CH4
Benzene C6H6 CH
Sulfur S8 S
Glucose C6H12O6 CH2O

Use in physics

In physics, an empirical formula is a mathematical equation that predicts observed results, but is derived from experiment or conjecture and not directly from first principles.

An example was the Rydberg formula to predict the wavelengths of hydrogen spectral lines. Proposed in 1888, it perfectly predicted the wavelengths of the Lyman series, but lacked a theoretical basis until Niels Bohr produced his Bohr model of the atom in 1913.

See also


  1. ^ IUPAC, Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the "Gold Book") (1997). Online corrected version:  (2006–) "Empirical formula".

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Empirical formula — Empiric Em*pir ic, Empirical Em*pir ic*al, a. 1. Pertaining to, or founded upon, experiment or experience; depending upon the observation of phenomena; versed in experiments. [1913 Webster] In philosophical language, the term empirical means… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • empirical formula — noun Date: 1878 a chemical formula showing the simplest ratio of elements in a compound rather than the total number of atoms in the molecule < CH2O is the empirical formula for glucose > …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • empirical formula — noun A notation indicating the ratios of the various elements present in a compound, without regard to the actual numbers. The molecular formula for ethane is CH, while the empirical formula is CH …   Wiktionary

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  • empirical formula — Chem. a chemical formula indicating the elements of a compound and their relative proportions, as (CH2O)n. Cf. molecular formula, structural formula. [1820 30] * * * …   Universalium

  • empirical formula — noun a chemical formula showing the ratio of elements in a compound rather than the total number of atoms • Hypernyms: ↑formula, ↑chemical formula …   Useful english dictionary

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