Book Cover Chemistry 8th Edition / Chang
Student Study Guide

Chapter 15: Acids and Bases

Index | 15.1 | 15.2 – 15.3 | 15.4 | 15.5 – 15.7 | 15.8 | 15.9 | 15.10 | 15.12 |



  1. Predict which ions of a given salt will hydrolyze, and predict whether a solution will be acidic, basic, or neutral.
  2. Calculate the pH of a given salt solution.

Hydrolysis. A salt is an ionic compound formed by the reaction of an acid and a base. In dealing with salts, it will be useful to recall that they are strong electrolytes and are completely dissociated in water. The term salt hydrolysis refers to the reaction of a cation or an anion, or both with water which splits the water molecule into two parts. Salt hydrolysis usually affects the pH of a solution.

A cation causes hydrolysis by bonding to the hydroxide part of the water molecule, causing a proton to be released. Cations that undergo hydrolysis produce acidic solutions.

M+ + HOH H+ + MOH

Certain metal ions such as Al3+, Cr3+, Fe3+, Be2+ and Bi3+ are good examples of acidic cations. NH4+ is also an acidic cation.

Anion Hydrolysis.

Anions that undergo hydrolysis produce basic solutions. An anion can cause hydrolysis by acting as a Brønsted base. A basic anion can accept a proton from water and releases a OH– ion.

A– + HOH HA + OH–

Not all anions cause hydrolysis. You must be able to recognize those that do and those that don't. Quite simply, those anions with the ability to undergo hydrolysis are conjugate bases of weak acids. The conjugate base of any weak acid is a weak base and will raise the pH of an aqueous solution. The extent of hydrolysis is proportional to the base ionization constant, Kb.

Keep in mind that the conjugate base of a strong acid has no tendency to accept protons from H2O. Anions such as Cl–, NO3-, and ClO4- do not cause hydrolysis. They do not have acid-base properties.

EXAMPLE Hydrolysis of Ions

Write net ionic equations to show which of the following ions hydrolyze in aqueous solution:

  1. NO3-

    no reaction
    NO3- + H2O HNO3 + OH-


  3. NO2-

    no reaction
    NO2- + H2O HNO2 + OH-


  5. NH4+

    no reaction
    NH4+ + H2O NH3 + H3O+
    NH4+ + H2O NH5+ + OH-


The Conjugate Bases of Weak Acids. Fluoride ion is the conjugate base of hydrofluoric acid (HF) a weak acid. As a weak base it can accept a proton from water. The resulting OH– ions make the solution basic.

The force that makes this reaction possible is the tendency of the weak acid HF to remain undissociated.

Three realms of base strength can be distinguished:


Cation Hydrolysis. It is important to know which metal ions cause hydrolysis and which do not. Those that cause hydrolysis are small, highly charged metal ions such as Al3+, Cr3+, Fe3+, Bi3+, and Be2+. These can split H2O molecules, yielding acidic solutions. In the case of the hydrated Al3+ ion the reaction is

Al(H2O)63+(aq) + H2O(l) Al(OH)(H2O)52+(aq) + H3O+(aq)

The singly charged metal ions associated with strong bases do not cause hydrolysis. The commonly encountered ions Na+, K+, Ca2+, and Mg2+ do not have a great enough positive charge to attract an OH– from a H2O molecule and bond to it. Recall that NaOH and KOH are strong bases. That is, they ionize completely in solution. These ions, K+ and OH– for instance, have no tendency to stay together in solution.

KOH(aq) K+(aq) + OH–(aq)

The hydrolysis reaction that would bond an OH– to a K+ ion does not occur!

K+(aq)+ H2O(l) KOH(aq) + H+(aq) (no reaction)

Another acidic cation that you will need to be familiar with is the ammonium ion (NH). Solutions of ammonium ion are acidic because NH is a Brønsted acid. Recall that is the conjugate acid of the weak base NH3.

NH4+ + H2O NH3 + H3O+

or simply

NH4+ NH3 + H+ Ka = 5.6 x 10–10

Table 15.5 lists the various anions and cations we have discussed according to their acid-base properties. You should review the material above, and in the textbook to see why each ion has the property described.

Table 15.5 Acid-Base Properties of Ions

  Acidic Basic Neutral

Cations Al3+, Cr3+, Fe3+
Bi3+, Be2+, NH4+
  Na+, K+
Mg2+, Ca2+
Anions HSO4– CH3COO–, F–, NO2-
all conjugate bases
of weak acids
Cl–, Br–, NO3–
all conjugate bases
of strong acids

Salts That Produce Acidic Solutions. Salts producing acidic solutions are salts of strong acids and weak bases. These salts contain cations that undergo hydrolysis, and anions that do not (the neutral anions). Such a salt has a cation that is a conjugate acid of a weak base. Thus solutions of these salts are acidic. The salt NH4Cl is a strong electrolyte and dissociates into ammonium ions and chloride ions when dissolved in water. The NH4+ ion is a conjugate acid of the weak base NH3 and releases H+ ion into solution.

NH4Cl(aq) ®(aq) + Cl–(aq)     (strong electrolyte)
NH4+ NH3 + H+     Ka = 5.6 x 10–10

The Cl– ion is neutral having no acidic or basic properties. NH4Cl is a salt of a strong acid (HCl) and a weak base (NH3).

Solutions of certain salts such as AlCl3 and FeCl3 are also acidic. These contain small, highly charged cations, and anions that are conjugate bases of strong acids.

Salts That Produce Basic Solutions. Salts producing a basic pH are salts of weak acids and strong bases. These salts have a neutral cation and a basic anion. For example, NaF dissociates into Na+ and F– ions. The Na+ ion has no acidic or basic properties, but the fluoride ion is a conjugate base of a weak acid and therefore is a basic anion.

NaF a salt of the NaOH, a strong base, and HF, a weak acid.

F– + H2O HF + OH–

Salts That Produce Neutral Solutions. When a salt is dissolved in water the solution will acquire a pH consistent with the acid-base properties of the cation and anion making up the salt. In general, salts containing alkali metal ions or alkaline earth metal ions (except Be2+) and the conjugate bases of strong acids do not undergo hydrolysis; their solutions are neutral. Consequently, a solution of KCl, for example, is neutral. A K+ ion does not accept an OH– ion from H2O, and a Cl– ion does not accept a H+ ion from H2O.

EXAMPLE Acid-Base Properties of Ions

Predict whether the following aqueous solutions will be acidic, basic, or neutral.

  1. KI    


  2. NH4I    


  4. CH3COOK    


Salts in Which Both the Anion and Cation Hydrolyze. Salts derived from a weak acid and a weak base contain cations and anions that will hydrolyze. Whether a solution containing such a salt is acidic, basic, or neutral depends on the relative strengths of the acidic and basic anions. For example, a solution of ammonium fluoride is acidic because NH4+ is a stronger acid than F– is a base.

NH4F(aq) NH4+(aq) + F–(aq)      (strong electrolyte)

NH4+ NH3 + H+     Ka = 5.6 x 10–10
F– + H2O HF + OH–     Kb = 1.4 x 10–11

NH4F is a salt of a weak acid and a weak base. On the other hand, another such salt (NH4CN) is a basic salt because CN– ion is a stronger base than is an acid.

The pH of Salt Solutions. The pH of a salt solution is calculated just as it is for any weak acid or base. See Example 15.20 for an illustration of this important calculation.

EXAMPLE pH of a Solution Containing a Salt

Calculate the pH of 0.25 M C6H7O6Na (sodium ascorbate) solution.



Complete the following questions to check your understanding of the material. Select the check button to see if you answered correctly.

  1. Given that Ka for formic acid (HCOOH) is 1.7 x 10–4, find the Kb value for formate ion, HCOO–.

  2. Calculate Ka for ammonium ion NH given the Kb value for ammonia in Table 15.4.

  3. Predict whether the pH is > 7, < 7, or = 7 for aqueous solutions containing the following salts.

    1. K2CO3    
    2. BaCl2    
    3. Fe(NO3)3    
  4. Calculate the pH of 0.021 M NaCN solution.


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