Molecular Geometry: What is It and How Does it Work?


While there are some basic rules of molecular geometry, how these rules apply to specific molecules is not always easy to predict.

To understand why this is the case, it is important to know what molecular geometry is and how it works in the first place.

This guide will help you understand molecular geometry, from its definition to some of the best ways to test molecular geometry on your own!

Molecular Geometry Definition

Molecular geometry refers to the geometric arrangement of atoms in a molecule. The shapes can be determined by measuring bond angles, bond lengths, or VSEPR theory.

Shapes of Molecules

The shape a molecule takes depends on how its atoms bond with each other. Atoms in a single molecule can take on any of the different geometries.

Although molecules can take any of an infinite number of possible shapes, there are only a few shapes that are stable enough to be found in nature.

Examples of Molecular Geometry

The fundamental molecular shapes are called geometries, and are characterized by particular numbers of points, lines, or angles that exist at their vertexes (intersections).

These geometries also have characteristic values associated with them; for example, planar molecules (such as methane) have 180° at their vertices. Here is a list of some geometries you might encounter in real life.

Geometry No. of electron pairs Ideal bond angle Types Examples Visual Representation
Square Planer 6 90° AB4E2 XeF4 Molecular Geometry
Octahedral 6 90° AB6 SF6 Molecular Geometry
Square pyramidal 6 90° AB5E ClF5 Molecular Geometry
Trigonal bipyramidal 5 90°, 120° AB5 PCl5 Molecular Geometry        
T-shape 5 90°, 180° AB3E2 ClF3 Molecular Geometry
Linear 5 180° AB2 E3 XeF2 Molecular Geometry
seesaw 5 120°, 180° AB4E SF4 Molecular Geometry    
bent 4 (104.5°) 109.5° AB2E2 H2O Molecular Geometry


tetrahedral 4 109.5° AB4 CH4    Molecular Geometry
trigonal pyramidal 4 (107.5°)109.5° AB3E NH3      Molecular Geometry
trigonal planar 3 120° AB3 BF3    Molecular Geometry
bent 3 (119°)120° AB2 E SO2            Molecular Geometry
linear 2 180° AB2 BeF2   Molecular Geometry

Isomers in Molecular Geometry

These are molecules with the same molecular formula but different molecular structures. When you look at these molecules in three-dimensional space, you will see that they have different shapes. These shapes may be very similar or completely different from one another. 

How Can We Predict Molecular Geometry?

 molecular geometry

We can predict molecular geometry by looking at Lewis diagrams. Lewis diagrams allow us to represent electron pairs between atoms, a key requirement for determining molecular geometry.

When electrons are located in pairs, we can draw single lines around each atom. A representation of a molecule that has all single bonds will look like a line-up of carbon atoms in a straight line with hydrogen atoms on both sides.

If you see two or more intersecting or curved lines in your diagram, you’re probably looking at multiple bonds rather than single bonds!

A Quick Way to Determine Molecular Geometry

 molecular geometry

There are several ways to determine molecular geometry, including diffraction methods like X-ray crystallography.

These techniques give you an absolute sense of geometry, but they are time-consuming and sometimes expensive.

There are also computational techniques that can determine geometries, but only if there is sufficient experimental data available.

For a quick way to measure relative shapes, chemists use an instrument called a Van der Waals gauge.

This device uses infrared spectroscopy to determine whether molecules have linear or cyclic structures; if their structures are anything other than linear, then their bond lengths will be longer (or shorter) than predicted by simple chemical principles.

Why is it Important to Know About Molecular Geometry?

The structures of molecules affect all aspects of molecular function, including their ability to perform tasks within cells and interact with other molecules. In some cases, knowing about molecular geometry is important for solving biological problems.

For example, if you have an enzyme that only works well at a certain pH level or salinity level, understanding its structure might help determine why its activity changes with different conditions.

Understanding what can change about a molecule’s structure allows scientists to predict how its function will change as well.

Therefore, knowing about molecular geometry is not just interesting—it also helps us understand how organisms work at a basic level. In addition to helping us learn more about biology in general, understanding molecular geometry also has practical applications.


The molecules that make up everything from chocolate to gasoline share one thing in common—geometry.

We tend to think of molecules as tiny balls of substance, but in reality, they are more complicated in their arrangements of atoms with unique shapes.

These different geometric structures affect how well our bodies absorb medication, how easily medicines mix, and even how fast a drug gets into your bloodstream. However, determining geometry requires complex techniques that are difficult for most people to understand.

There is not even an easy-to-understand definition of molecular geometry itself!

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