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J Comput Chem. 2007 Jan 15;28(1):87-97.

Gilbert N. Lewis and the chemical bond: the electron pair and the octet rule from 1916 to the present day.

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Department of Chemistry, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.


We describe the development of Lewis's ideas concerning the chemical bond and in particular the concept of the electron pair bond and the octet rule. We show that the concept of the electron pair bond has endured to the present day and is now understood to be a consequence of the Pauli principle. In contrast the octet rule is now regarded as much less important than was originally generally believed, although Lewis himself knew several exceptions and regarded it as less important than what he called the rule of two (the electron pair). The octet rule was more strongly promoted by Langmuir who is also responsible for the term covalent bond. However, many more exceptions to the octet rules than were known to Lewis are now known and the terms hypervalent and hypovalent used to describe such molecules are no longer particularly useful. Today it is realized that bonding electron pairs in many molecules are not as well localized as Lewis believed, nevertheless resonance structures, i.e., plausible alternative Lewis structures, are still often used to describe such molecules. Moreover electrons are not always found in pairs, as for example in linear molecules, which can, however, be satisfactorily described by Linnett's double quartet theory. The electron density distribution in a molecule can now be analyzed using the ELF and other functions of the electron density to show where electron pairs are most probably to be found in a molecule.

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