Understanding Chemical Formulas

Every day, we come into contact with chemicals and compounds. Chemical compounds make up the cleaning supplies we keep under the kitchen sink as well as the medicines we keep in our medicine cabinets. These substances are made up of a specific number of atoms that are organized in a specific way. We need to know the chemical formula of the substance or compound to figure out what these proportions are and how they are organized for each specific material.


A compound is a substance made up of two or more components in a certain proportion. The number of atoms in each element in a compound is determined by its chemical formula. It includes symbols for the atoms of the elements in the compound, as well as the number of each element in the form of subscripts.


Because each chemical substance has a unique chemical makeup, they have their own chemical formula. Consider sucrose’s chemical formula: it has 12 carbon (C) atoms, 22 hydrogen (H) atoms, and 11 oxygen (O) atoms.


Chemical formulas come in a variety of forms, each of which provides us with different information about a chemical component. Molecular, empirical, structural, and condensed structural formulas are examples of several types of chemical formulas. We’ll go through each of these types in detail, as well as some instances.

Molecular Formula

The true formula, also known as the molecular formula, informs us how many distinct components are in one molecule of a chemical. Each element in a molecular formula is represented by its periodic table symbol, and the number of atoms for each element is indicated by the subscript (the small number to the lower right of the element).


Empirical Formula

The term empirical refers to something that may be validated by observation. Experiments are used in chemistry to validate facts. As a result, the empirical formula is defined as the simplest ratio of whole numbers of elements that make up a compound derived from experimental data.


In the same way that we simplify fractions in arithmetic class, we can simplify formulas in chemistry.


While the molecular formula provides the number of atoms of each element in a molecule, the empirical formula provides the simplest ratio rather than the number of atoms. Some instances of empirical formulas generated from molecular formulas are as follows:


Formula for Empirical Research


There are some molecular formulas that can’t be decreased any further because they’ve already reached their simplest ratio. The molecular formula is the same as the empirical formula in these circumstances, as can be seen in these examples.


The Molecular and Empirical Formulas are the same.


The subscripts 12, 22, and 11 in Sucrose do not have the largest common factor, hence they cannot be lowered anymore. Ethanol is the same way.

Structural Formula

We don’t know how the atoms are ordered or which atoms are bound to each other when we only write the chemical formula. The structural formula depicts the number of atoms in a compound, as well as how they are ordered and which atoms are connected to one another.


The structural formulas for ethane, propane, and ethanol are shown here. Below the structural formulations are the molecular formulas for each.

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