How many atoms in the following molecule can hydrogen bond with water?

Quick Answer

The number of atoms in a molecule that can hydrogen bond with water depends on the specific functional groups present. Generally, atoms like oxygen and nitrogen that have lone pairs of electrons can form hydrogen bonds with the hydrogen atoms of water molecules.

Hydrogen bonding is an important intermolecular force that affects the physical and chemical properties of many compounds. It occurs between a hydrogen atom covalently bonded to a highly electronegative atom like oxygen, nitrogen, or fluorine and another nearby highly electronegative atom. The highly electronegative atom has a lone pair of electrons that can interact with the hydrogen atom attached to the other electronegative atom. This allows for the formation of a weak electrostatic attraction known as a hydrogen bond.

Water, with its oxygen and hydrogen atoms, is particularly adept at hydrogen bonding. The partially positive hydrogen atoms of one water molecule are attracted to the lone pairs of a nearby water molecule’s oxygen atom. This allows water molecules to interact strongly with other species capable of hydrogen bonding. By determining how many hydrogen bond donors and acceptors are present in a molecule, we can predict how effectively that molecule will interact with water.

In this article, we will look at the hydrogen bonding capabilities of a sample molecule. By analyzing its structure and functional groups, we will determine how many of its atoms can potentially form hydrogen bonds with water. This will provide insight into its solubility, reactivity, and other important properties.

Evaluating Hydrogen Bonding in the Sample Molecule

Let’s consider the molecule 2-amino-3-hydroxypropanoic acid:

This molecule contains several groups with hydrogen bonding capability:

– The hydroxyl (-OH) group on the number 3 carbon contains an oxygen atom with two lone pairs of electrons. This oxygen can serve as a hydrogen bond acceptor.

– The amine (-NH2) group on the number 2 carbon contains a nitrogen atom with a lone pair of electrons. This nitrogen can also act as a hydrogen bond acceptor.

– The hydrogen atoms attached to the electronegative oxygen and nitrogen atoms can serve as hydrogen bond donors.

In total, this molecule contains two hydrogen bond acceptors (the oxygen and nitrogen atoms) and potentially four hydrogen bond donors (the two hydroxyl hydrogens and two amine hydrogens).

Therefore, up to six atoms in this molecule are capable of forming hydrogen bonds with water – the two oxygen and nitrogen atoms and the four covalently bonded hydrogens. The numerous potential interactions suggest this molecule will have appreciable solubility and reactivity with aqueous solutions.

Factors Affecting Hydrogen Bond Strength

While we have identified the atoms capable of hydrogen bonding, it is also important to consider factors that affect the strength of these interactions. The strength of a hydrogen bond depends on:

  • Electronegativity of the acceptor atom – The more electronegative, the stronger the hydrogen bond.
  • Polarity of the bond between the hydrogen and attached electronegative atom – The more polar, the stronger the hydrogen bond.
  • Geometry of the interacting dipoles – More linear arrangements produce stronger interactions.

In our sample molecule, the oxygen should form stronger hydrogen bonds than the nitrogen, due to its higher electronegativity. The hydroxyl groups likely produce stronger hydrogen bonding interactions than the amine groups, as O-H bonds are more polar than N-H bonds.

Steric factors may also hinder the ability of certain groups to achieve optimal linear geometry for strong hydrogen bonding with water. For example, the hydrogens on the hydroxyl group may have greater geometric constraints than the amine hydrogens.

Overall, we expect the oxygen of the hydroxyl group to form the strongest hydrogen bonds due to its high electronegativity and mostly unhindered geometry. The nitrogen and amine hydrogens will also contribute, but their interactions may be comparatively weaker.

Comparing Hydrogen Bonding to Water Itself

Water is capable of forming exceptionally strong hydrogen bonds with itself. Each water molecule can hydrogen bond with up to four others, allowing for extended networks of hydrogen bonding throughout liquid water.

While our sample molecule contains multiple hydrogen bonding sites, the strength and extent of its hydrogen bonding interactions with water will be less than water-water interactions. The linear, optimal geometry of water-water hydrogen bonding network is difficult to achieve between a small organic molecule and water.

Furthermore, hydrogen bonds between organic molecules and water must compete with a large excess of water-water hydrogen bonds. As a result, the hydrogen bonds involving our sample molecule will be much more transient than the stable water-water interactions.

Nevertheless, the compound’s hydrogen bonding capabilities still allow it to be miscible and interact favorably with aqueous solutions. The attractive forces just will not be as strong on a per molecule basis as water interacting with itself.

Implications for Solubility

The ability of our sample molecule to form multiple hydrogen bonds with water has important implications for its solubility. Compounds that cannot form hydrogen bonds with water tend to be insoluble. Nonpolar hydrocarbons, for example, lack hydrogen bond donors and acceptors, making them poorly soluble in water.

Conversely, the six potential hydrogen bonds in our sample indicate it should have appreciable solubility. However, solubility also depends on the compound’s polarity. Portions of the molecule that lack hydrogen bonding capacity can interfere with solubility if they are nonpolar.

In this case, the rest of the molecule outside the functional groups is relatively polar, containing ether and hydroxyl linkages. So the entire molecule should interact favorably with water through both hydrogen bonding and polar interactions. Overcoming hydrophobic effects leads to good solubility.

We can thus predict that 2-amino-3-hydroxypropanoic acid will be readily soluble in water and other aqueous solutions due to its multiple potential hydrogen bonds and polar character. Extensive hydrogen bonding capabilities frequently correspond with increased hydrophilicity and water solubility.

Reactivity Effects

Hydrogen bonding also influences the reactivity of a molecule. The intermolecular hydrogen bonds with solvent can stabilize or activate certain bonds toward reaction.

In our sample, the hydroxyl and amine hydrogen bond donors may experience some stabilization and decreased reactivity due to hydrogen bonding with water. The lone pairs on oxygen and nitrogen that serve as acceptors also become less nucleophilic when engaged in hydrogen bonding interactions.

Consequently, reactions at these functional groups may show reduced rates in aqueous solution. However, many reactions rely on interaction of these groups with other reagents also capable of hydrogen bonding. So the changes in reactivity will be complex.

Overall, we expect the extensive hydrogen bonding capabilities to make the properties of this molecule highly dependent on the exact reaction conditions in aqueous solutions. Changes like pH that disrupt hydrogen bonding networks can have a large effect. The reactivity cannot be deduced simply from the presence of hydrogen bonding groups alone.

Comparison to Other Molecules

To better understand the hydrogen bonding capabilities of our sample molecule, let’s compare it to some other representative organic compounds:

Molecule Hydrogen Bond Donors Hydrogen Bond Acceptors
2-amino-3-hydroxypropanoic acid (our sample) 4 2
Methane (CH4) 0 0
Ethanol (CH3CH2OH) 1 1
Dimethyl ether (CH3OCH3) 0 2
Benzene (C6H6) 0 0
Glucose (C6H12O6) 6 6

Comparing the number of hydrogen bond donors and acceptors provides insight into the relative hydrogen bonding capability and hydrophilicity of these example molecules:

– Methane, with no hydrogen bond donors/acceptors, is nonpolar and insoluble in water.

– Ethanol, with an alcohol group, can donate and accept one hydrogen bond. It has modest solubility.

– Dimethyl ether can accept two hydrogen bonds but has no donors. It has slight water solubility.

– Benzene, also lacking in hydrogen bonding capability, is hydrophobic like other nonpolar hydrocarbons.

– Glucose contains six alcohol groups, allowing it to donate and accept extensively through hydrogen bonding. It is highly soluble in water.

Our sample molecule has hydrogen bonding capacity and predicted solubility that is intermediate between ethanol/dimethyl ether and highly polar glucose. Its reactivity is also moderated by stabilizing effects from hydrogen bond formation with water.


By analyzing the functional groups present in 2-amino-3-hydroxypropanoic acid, we identified two hydrogen bond acceptors and four hydrogen bond donors. This allows up to six of its atoms to participate in hydrogen bonding interactions with water.

The multiple potential hydrogen bonds suggest the molecule will have appreciable solubility in aqueous solutions. However, the strength of these interactions will be less than water-water hydrogen bonding.

The hydrogen bonding capabilities of the molecule also have important impacts on its reactivity, generally stabilizing the molecule but dependent on specific reaction conditions. Comparison to other organic compounds helps identify how its hydrogen bonding capacity relates to properties like solubility and polarity.

Consideration of the hydrogen bonding atoms provides critical information about the physical behavior and chemical reactivity of this compound in water and aqueous solutions. Evaluating hydrogen bonding capability is an essential tool for the chemist seeking to understand and predict molecule properties and behavior.

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