Types of Chemical Bonds

Types of Chemical Bonds
The three main types of chemical bonds are ionic, covalent, and metallic bonds. Intermolecular bonds, like hydrogen bonds, also occur.

Chemical bonds are the glue that hold atoms and ions together to form molecules and crystals. When we talk about chemical bonding, the main types of bonds are the strong ones that attract atoms to one another and form molecules. These are intramolecular bonds or bonds within molecules. However, there are also intermolecular forces that attract (and repel) atoms belonging to different molecules. These forces include weaker chemical bonds, such as hydrogen bonds. Here is a look at the types of chemical bonds, with examples.

3 Main Types of Chemical Bonds

Ionic, covalent, and metallic bonds are the three main types of chemical bonds between atoms and ions:

  • Ionic bonds form between a metal and a nonmetal. The metal donates a valence electron to the nonmetal to form the bond.
  • Covalent bonds form when two nonmetals share electrons in a chemical bond.
  • Metallic bonds form between metal atoms, where the valence electrons float between multiple atoms.

Ionic Bonds

Ionic bonds form when there is a large electronegativity difference between atoms or ions. Generally, this type of bond forms between a metal and a nonmetal. However, ammonium ion (NH4+) consists of nonmetals and forms ionic bonds with other nonmetals. The valence electron of the metal (the electropositive species) transfers to the valence shell of the nonmetal (the electronegative species), forming a chemical bond. Ionic bonds tend to be strong, forming ionic crystals that are hard and brittle. A good example of an ionic bond is the bond between the sodium atom and chlorine atom in sodium chloride or table salt (NaCl).

Covalent Bonds

Covalent bonds form when atoms or ions have comparable electronegativity values. The atoms form a chemical bond by sharing valence electrons. Covalent bonds form between two nonmetals. Examples of molecules made via covalent bonds include molecular oxygen (O2), water (H2O), and carbon dioxide (CO2). Compounds containing only covalent bonds tend to form relatively soft solids, although some are brittle. They tend to have lower melting and boiling points than ionic compounds and don’t conduct heat or electricity well. However, the covalent bond is not necessarily weaker than the ionic bond. For example, diamond consists of carbon atoms connected by covalent bonds.

A pure covalent bond occurs when atoms have the same electronegativity (e.g., H2, O3). When the nonmetal atoms are different, their electronegativity values are also different and the valence electron is attracted to one atom slightly more than to the other. Unlike nonmetallic atoms form polar covalent bonds (e.g., H2O, CO2).

Metallic Bonds

Metal atoms form metallic bonds with each other. Here, the valence electrons are delocalized. What this means is that these valence electrons move between atoms rather than associate with just one (like in an ionic or covalent bond). This type of bond promotes high electrical conductivity and helps metals be ductile and malleable. Pure metallic elements like gold or silver form this type of bond. It also occurs in alloys, such as brass or steel.

Hydrogen Bonding

A hydrogen bond forms between hydrogen and a more electronegative atom or group of another molecule.
A hydrogen bond forms between hydrogen and a more electronegative atom or group of another molecule.

Hydrogen bonding is another type of chemical bonding. It occurs between a hydrogen atom of one molecule and an electronegative atom (a nonmetal) from another molecule or another portion of the same molecule. A hydrogen bond is a bit different from ionic, covalent, or metallic bonding because it involves partial electrical charge. It’s closest to the electron sharing of covalent bonding. While a hydrogen bond is weaker than the bonds that hold atoms within molecules, it’s still a significant factor in how molecules arrange themselves. Hydrogen bonding occurs between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of two water molecules. But, it also occurs between hydrogen and other atoms. For example, hydrogen bonding occurs between the chlorine atoms of Cl2 and the hydrogen atoms of water (H2O).

Single, Double, and Triple Bonds

Another way of looking at chemical bonds is whether they are single, double, or triple bonds. These are varieties of covalent bonds. A single bond forms when the two atoms share one pair of valence electrons. A double bond forms when the atoms share two pairs of valence electrons. When the atoms share three pairs of valence electrons, the results is a triple bond. Triple bonds are stronger than double or single bonds and are also shorter. Similarly, a single bond is longer and weaker than a double or triple bond.


  • Atkins, Peter; Loretta Jones (1997). Chemistry: Molecules, Matter and Change. New York: W.H. Freeman & Co. ISBN 978-0-7167-3107-8.
  • Housecroft, Catherine E.; Sharpe, Alan G. (2005). Inorganic Chemistry (2nd ed.). Pearson Prentice-Hal. ISBN 0130-39913-2.
  • Lewis, Gilbert N. (1916). “The Atom and the Molecule”. Journal of the American Chemical Society. 38 (4): 772. doi:10.1021/ja02261a002
  • Pauling, Linus (1960). “The Concept of Resonance”. The Nature of the Chemical Bond – An Introduction to Modern Structural Chemistry (3rd ed.). Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801403330.