General Chemistry is a free introductory textbook on chemistry. See the editorial for more information....

Acid-Base Equilibrium

Author: John Hutchinson

We have developed an understanding of equilibrium involving phase transitions and involving reactions entirely in the gas phase. We will assume an understanding of the principles of dynamic equilibrium, reaction equilibrium constants, and Le Châtelier's Principle.
To understand application of these principles to reactions in solution, we will now assume a definition of certain classes of substances as being either acids or bases. An acid is a substance whose molecules donate positive hydrogen ions (protons) to other molecules or ions. When dissolved in pure water, acid molecules will transfer a hydrogen ion to a water molecule or to a cluster of several water molecules. This increases the concentration of H+ ions in the solution. A base is a substance whose molecules accept hydrogen ions from other molecules. When dissolved in pure water, base molecules will accept a hydrogen ion from a water molecule, leaving behind an increased concentration of OH- ions in the solution. To understand what determines acid-base behavior, we will assume an understanding of the bonding, structure, and properties of individual molecules.

Acids and bases are very common substances whose properties vary greatly. Many acids are known to be quite corrosive, with the ability to dissolve solid metals or burn flesh. Many other acids, however, are not only benign but vital to the processes of life. Far from destroying biological molecules, they carry out reactions critical for organisms. Similarly, many bases are caustic cleansers while many others are medications to calm indigestion pains.

In this concept study, we will develop an understanding of the characteristics of molecules which make them either acids or bases. We will examine measurements about the relative strengths of acids and bases, and we will use these to develop a quantitative understanding of the relative strengths of acids and bases. From this, we can develop a qualitative understanding of the properties of molecules which determine whether a molecule is a strong acid or a weak acid, a strong base or a weak base. This understanding is valuable in predicting the outcomes of reactions, based on the relative quantitative strengths of acids and bases. These reactions are commonly referred to as neutralization reactions. A surprisingly large number of reactions, particularly in organic chemistry, can be understood as transfer of hydrogen ions from acid molecules to base molecules.

Last Update: 2011-02-16