How to Memorize Chemical Nomenclature

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The set of rules governing the naming of chemical compounds has been standardized, worldwide, by the scientific body International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. The purpose of these rules is to ensure that chemical names are understandable by scientists of any nationality and native language. The name of a compound also generally gives some information about the makeup of the compound. While there is no strict system of memorization of these names, since there are so many, understanding the context when a particular prefix or suffix is used can help you determine the proper name of a given compound.

Metal to Nonmetal Compounds

  • List the name of the metallic element first, without alteration.

  • List the name of the nonmetal element second and add the suffix -ide. For example, a compound containing the elements sodium and chlorine becomes: NaCl sodium chloride.

  • Add the suffix -ic or -ous to the metallic element if it has more than one possible ion. The suffix -ic is used for the higher charged ion and the suffix -ous is used for the lower charged ion. For example, FeF is iron flouride where FeF(2) becomes ferrous flouride and FeF(3) becomes ferric flouride.

Nonmetal to Nonmetal compounds

  • Order the name of the chemical compound placing the element furthest to the left on the periodic table first in the name.

  • Add the suffix -ide to the end of the second element.

  • Add a numbering prefix to the first element to signify the number of atoms it contains. The prefixes include: mono, di, tri, tetra, penta, hexa, hepta, octa, nona and deca, ascending in order from 1 to 10. For example, N(2)O(5) is called dinitrogen pentoxide.

Ions

  • Use the name of the element plus "ion" for single atom cations (positive ions). For example, Na(+) = sodium ion.

  • Add the -ide suffix to single atom anion (negative ion) and the word "ion." For example, O(2-) = oxide ion.

  • Add the suffix -ite to oxyanions (anions containing O) with few oxygen atoms and the prefix -ate for those with a higher number. For example, NO(2)(1-) is called nitrite since it has a charge of negative one and only two O atoms. NO(3)(1-) is called nitrate because it is an anion with charge negative 1 and three O atoms.

  • Place the positively charged ion first and the negatively charged ion second when naming polyatomic ions with elements of both charges.

Acids

  • Add the suffix hydro- and prefix -ic to acids containing hydrogen and a halogen and add the word "acid." For example, HCl becomes hydrochloric acid.

  • Add the suffix -ous and the word "acid" to polyatomic ions when containing hydrogen and few oxygen atoms. For example, HNO(2) is called nitrous acid.

  • Add the suffix -ic and the word "acid" to polyatomic ions when containing hydrogen and many oxygen atoms. For example, HNO(3) is called nitric acid.

References

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