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Naming Chemical Compounds


There are different classes of chemical compounds and different methods for naming them. The first place to start in naming compounds is with the periodic table. Names of compounds are usually derived from the names of the elements in the compound.

Naming inorganic compounds

metal containing

Compounds containing a metal will be based on the name of the elemental metal plus the name of the anion. The name of simple nonmetal anions convert the ending of the element name with -ide. Polyatomic anions usually end with -ite or -ate. (Note that hydroxide, OH-, is an exception.)

common anions containing nonmetals
symbolname symbolname symbolname symbolname
Cl-chloride ClO2-chlorite ClO32-chlorate ClO4-perchlorate
Br-bromide    BrO32-bromate   
I-iodide    IO32-iodate   
O2-oxide OH-hydroxide    O22-peroxide
S2-sulfide SO32-sulfite SO42-sulfate   
N3-nitride NO2-nitrite NO3-nitrate   
P3-phosphide    PO43-phosphate   
As3-arsenide    AsO32-arsenate   
C4-carbide    CO32-carbonate   
Si4-silicide    SiO44-silicate   

a few more
HCO3-hydrogen carbonate (bicarbonate)
HSO3-hydrogen sulfite (bisulfite)
HSO4-hydrogen sulfate (bisulfate)
HPO42-hydrogen phosphate
H2PO4-dihydrogen phosphate

common organic anions

common anions containing metals

Metals with multiple oxidation states use a Roman numeral in parentheses to specify the oxidation state. Example:

formulawrite asread as
FeCl2iron(II) chlorideiron two chloride
FeCl3iron(III) chlorideiron three chloride


The name of nonmetallic compounds use the name of the first element in the formula followed by the name for the other elements in the compound, modified as above. A prefix indicates the number of each atom in the compound. Examples:

formularead as
COcarbon monoxide
CO2carbon dioxide
SO2sulfur dioxide
SO3sulfur trioxide
N2O5dinitrogen pentoxide

Naming Complexes

Complex ions are named with the ligand names added as prefixes to the name of the central metal ion. Anionic ligands are modified with the suffix -o, for example: chloro, Cl-, cyano, CN-, and hydroxo, OH-. Most neutral ligands retain their usual name, a few exceptions are:
formulaligand name

formularead as

The names of complex ions are used in names of salts as described for other ions above. Cationic complexes are used as is and anionic complexes have -ate added as a suffix. For example:

coming soon...

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