Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 61–75 | Cite as

Electronegativity and its multiple faces: persistence and measurement

  • Klaus Ruthenberg
  • Juan Camilo Martínez González


Electronegativity is a quantified, typical chemical concept, which correlates the ability of chemical species (atoms, molecules, ions, radicals, elements) to attract electrons during their contact with other species with measurable quantities such as dissociation energies, dipole moments, ionic radii, ionization potentials, electron affinities and spectroscopic data. It is applied to the description and explanation of chemical polarity, reaction mechanisms, other concepts such as acidity and oxidation, the estimation of types of chemical compounds and periodicity. Although this concept is very successful and widely used, and in spite of the fact that it is still subject to scientific investigations, neither a more than intuitive definition nor a generally accepted, logically clear and standardized quantification model has been developed. In the present work, electronegativity is presented and discussed with respect to its main conceptual and operational continuities and discontinuities. We try to analyze the epistemological status of electronegativity, conceived as a typical notion of chemical sciences. Under ‘epistemological status’ we subsume the issues of its reference, its historical persistence, and the relationship between its measurement and quantification.


Electronegativity Chemical properties Measurement scales Reactivity Property quantification, reference 



This paper emerged from different efforts from both authors. On July 29 1999, K.R. presented the paper “On the Epistemological Status of Electronegativity” at the 3rd ISPC Summer Symposium in Columbia, South Carolina, United States. J.C.M. realized a research stay at Coburg, Germany, in the fall of 2014, during which the main material of the present paper was written. The following joint papers could be presented: “Inconsistency in quantum chemistry?” (ISPC, London, July 9 2014); “From substances to atoms: Electronegativity revisited” (PSA, Chicago, November 6 2014). The authors are grateful for all comments and criticism during all these presentations. Particular thanks go to Eric Scerri for his thoughtful comments and hints.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Klaus Ruthenberg
    • 1
  • Juan Camilo Martínez González
    • 2
  1. 1.Coburg University of Applied Sciences and ArtsCoburgGermany
  2. 2.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas – CONICETBuenos AiresArgentina

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