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Why is Carbon considered Tetravalent?

  • Last Updated : 07 Dec, 2021

Carbon, like hydrogen, oxygen, lead, and any other element in the periodic table, is a chemical element. Carbon is an abundant element. Diamonds and graphite are examples of pure or almost pure carbon, although they may also mix with other elements to form molecules. Humans, animals, plants, trees, and soils all have carbon-based molecules as their basic building components. Some greenhouse gases, such as CO2 and methane, and fossil fuels, which are mostly made up of hydrocarbons, include carbon-based compounds (molecules consisting of hydrogen and carbon).

Carbon dioxide, the most major greenhouse gas created by humans, is usually referred to as “carbon” in the context of climate change. However, this isn’t technically correct. Only when each atom of carbon combines two atoms of oxygen does it become carbon dioxide (hence the chemical formula of carbon dioxide, CO2).

Carbon is one of the most essential elements of the survival of life on Earth. Carbon consists of 0.025 % of the Earth. Although, this amount is less Carbon combines with many different elements and forms a huge number of compounds. Nearly all living and non-living things are made up of Carbon. Carbon has fifteen different isotopes ranging from C-8 to C-22.

Carbon with atomic number 6, has the atomic configuration of 2, 4.  Carbon lies at the starting of Group 14 in the periodic table. Group 14 elements are also called Carbon Family elements.

Group 14 elements

Properties of Carbon

  • Carbon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Coal and soot are two examples of carbon in their purest form.
  • The colour is a smooth, drab grey or black.
  • Charcoal is one of the most significant carbon compounds, which is generated when carbon is burned in the absence of air.
  • It can be found in a variety of allotropic forms. Allotropes are different types of an element having different physical and chemical characteristics.
  • The density of different kinds of carbon varies depending on their origin. There are pure forms of carbon and non-pure forms of carbon, such as coal, which is a combination of both carbon and hydrogen. 
  • A combustion reaction is one of four reactions that occur in carbon compounds: Reaction of oxidation, Reaction of addition and Reaction of substitution.
  • Carbon, as we all know, requires oxygen, heat, and light in order to make carbon dioxide. Combustion is the process of burning something in the air to produce carbon dioxide.

Valency of Carbon

The atomic number 6 (2,4) of the Carbon atom, has four valence electrons, this means that Carbon has a combining capacity of four and has a valency of four. The four unpaired electrons of Carbon combines with four other atoms to form bonds. Carbon and other atoms share electrons to form bonds. To attain stability bond formation to complete octet is very necessary.

Carbon can form Cation with +4 Cation and Anion with -4 Valency. Both of which are unstable. The highly unstable nature of Carbon as Cation and Anion doesn’t support Ionic Bond Formations in Carbon.

Carbon with four valence electrons

Carbon cation 

Carbon Anion

Why is Carbon considered as Tetravalent?

The main reason for calling Carbon tetravalent is because carbon has 4 valence electrons in its valence shell. This tetravalent nature of having 4 valence electrons in the outer shell of Carbon leads to carbon to share electrons and form covalent bonds to attain the nearest noble gas configuration of Neon.  Four covalent bonds are formed by Carbon for attaining stability or nearest noble gas configuration. The covalent bond nature of Carbon is thus because of the tetravalent nature of Carbon.

The bond formation which therefore takes place in Carbon is Covalent in Nature.

Covalent bonding is the bond formation that takes place when there is no give or takes of electrons to form noble gas configuration and electrons are shared between two atoms to provide each other stability. 

An example of Covalent Bond Formation observed in CO2 between atoms of Carbon and Oxygen is as below:

Covalent Bond Formation

Sample Questions 

Question 1: Define homologous series.


A homologous series is a collection of compounds having comparable chemical characteristics and the same functional group, with the first member varying by −CH2  from the next. The same general formula may be used to describe members of a homologous series.

Question 2: What are the two properties of carbon which lead to the huge number of carbon compounds we see around us?


Carbon has two qualities that lead to a large variety of compounds.

  • Catenation: Catenation is the tendency of carbon atoms to bond together through covalent bonds to form chains and rings.
  • Tetravalency: Carbon has a valency of four, which means it may bind with four additional carbon atoms or atoms of another element.

Question 3: What is the atomic number of Carbon?


The atomic number of Carbon is 6

Question 4: Give the shell configuration of the Carbon atom.


The shell configuration of Carbon with atomic number 6 is 1s² 2s² 2p².

Question 5: How many covalent bonds does the Carbon atom make?


The carbon atom can share its four available electrons to form four covalent bonds.

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