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sp3-hybridization, definition, explanation, examples and significance            

October 23, 2023
written by shahzad haider


The type of hybridization in which one ‘s’ and three ‘p’ orbitals mix together to form four sp3-hybridized orbitals is called sp³-hybridization.

sp3 hybridization


sp³ hybridization is a fundamental concept in molecular chemistry that explains the arrangement of orbitals and the resulting molecular geometry in compounds with tetrahedral structures. The versatility of sp³ hybridization is evident in its application to a variety of molecules, providing a key to understanding the bonding and shapes of diverse chemical species.

Sp³ hybridization plays a crucial role in the formation of various organic and inorganic compounds. The tetrahedral geometry resulting from sp³ hybridization is a key feature in many molecules, providing stability and contributing to diverse chemical properties.

The Basis of sp³ Hybridization

Combination of Orbitals

sp³ hybridization involves the mixing or combination of one s orbital and three p orbitals from the same atom. This hybridization process occurs to facilitate effective bonding with other atoms.

Formation of sp³ Hybrid Orbitals

The combination of one s and three p orbitals results in the creation of four new sp³ hybrid orbitals. These orbitals are characterized by their directional and tetrahedral arrangement around the central atom.

Conditions for sp³ Hybridization

Presence of Four Sigma Bonds

sp³ hybridization typically occurs in atoms that form four sigma bonds. This includes atoms with a tetrahedral arrangement of bonding partners.

Absence of Lone Pairs

In sp³ hybridization, the central atom often does not have lone pairs. Any lone pairs present would result in a deviation from the ideal tetrahedral geometry.


Formation of CH4

Electronic configuration of the valence shell of carbon.

Electronic configuration of the valence shell of carbon

In the ground state, the C atom has two partially filled orbitals i.e., 2px1, and 2py1. When one electron from the 2s orbital is promoted to the 2pz orbital, carbon changes from divalent to tetravalent. At the same time, hybridization takes place and four sp3 hybrid orbitals are formed. A tetrahedral geometry is developed. Carbon is at the center and four equivalent hybrid orbitals are directed toward the four corners of a regular tetrahedron.

The hybrid orbitals are oriented in space in such a way that angle between them is 109.5°. In a methane molecule, four sp3 hybrid orbitals overlap with four 1s orbitals of four hydrogen atoms at four corners of the tetrahedron forming four sigma bonds.

sp3 hybridization structure of methane

Formation of NH3 molecule

The electronic configuration of nitrogen is

Electronic configuration of nitrogen

In the electronic configuration of nitrogen, one 2s and three 2p orbitals undergo hybridization to form four sp3 hybridized orbitals. These hybridized orbitals are directed toward four corners of the tetrahedron. Out of four hybrid orbitals, one is completely filled due to lone pair of electrons while the remaining three are half-filled. Nitrogen forms three bonds with three H atoms due to sp3 – s overlapping. These three hydrogen atoms are located at three corners of the tetrahedron while the fourth sp3 hybrid orbital having lone pair of electrons is located at the fourth corner. In this way, a pyramidal molecule is obtained in which three H atoms form a base while lone pair forms the apex.

sp3 hybridization structure of ammonia 1

The experimental value of the angle in NH3 is 107.5°. The decrease in the angle from 109.5° to 107.5° is due to the repulsion between lone pair and bond pairs of electrons.

Formation of a water molecule

The electronic configuration of the valence shell of oxygen is

Electronic configuration of oxygen

In the electronic configuration of oxygen, one 2s orbital and three 2p orbitals hybridize to produce four equivalent sp3-hybrid orbitals. Two of which are completely filled by two lone pairs of electrons and the other two are half-filled. These half-filled orbitals overlap with the 1s orbitals of two H-atoms. Hence two sigma bonds are formed. Thus H2O shows tetrahedral geometry in which two hydrogen atoms are located at two corners and the remaining two corners are occupied by two lone pairs.

sp3 hybridization structure of water

The bond angle in a water molecule is 104.5° instead of 109.5°. It is due to the force of repulsion between two lone pairs and two bond pairs of electrons.

Significance of sp³ Hybridization in Chemistry

The concept of sp³ hybridization is significant in understanding and explaining various aspects of molecular structure, bonding, and reactivity in chemistry. Here are some key points highlighting the significance of sp³ hybridization:

1. Molecular Geometry

Tetrahedral Arrangement: The most notable significance of sp³ hybridization is its role in determining the tetrahedral arrangement of atoms around a central atom. This arrangement minimizes electron pair repulsion, aligning with the principles of Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion (VSEPR) theory.

2. Formation of Sigma Bonds

Sigma (σ) Bonds: sp³ hybridization leads to the formation of sigma bonds. These strong covalent bonds result from the overlap of sp³ hybrid orbitals with atomic orbitals from other atoms, contributing to the stability of molecules.

3. Saturated Hydrocarbons

Alkanes and Cycloalkanes: sp³ hybridization is crucial for understanding the nature of alkanes and cycloalkanes. Carbon atoms in these saturated hydrocarbons undergo sp³ hybridization, contributing to their tetrahedral geometry and saturated nature.

4. Biological Molecules

Proteins, Nucleic Acids, and Lipids: In biological molecules, sp³ hybridization is prevalent in various functional groups. For instance, it influences the geometry of amino acids in proteins, the structure of nucleotides in DNA and RNA, and the arrangement of alkyl chains in lipids.

5. Reactivity in Organic Chemistry

Influence on Reactivity: The nature of sp³ hybridization affects the reactivity of organic compounds. It plays a role in determining the accessibility of lone pairs, reaction mechanisms, and the ease with which certain reactions occur.

6. Hydrogen Bonding in Water

Role in Hydrogen Bonding: The tetrahedral arrangement of hydrogen atoms around the oxygen atom in water, influenced by sp³ hybridization, is essential for the unique properties of water, including its ability to form hydrogen bonds.

7. Organometallic Chemistry

Formation of Organometallic Compounds: In organometallic chemistry, sp³ hybridization is commonly observed around metal atoms. It influences the bonding and reactivity of organometallic compounds.

8. Predicting Molecular Shapes

Application of VSEPR Theory: sp³ hybridization is central to predicting and understanding molecular shapes using the Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion (VSEPR) theory. The tetrahedral arrangement is a key factor in determining the overall geometry of molecules.