There are various definitions for acids and bases including the Arrhenius and the Lewis definitions. A less-commonly-used definition is the Hard and Soft Acid and Base Theory (HSAB Theory). This theory is used in a more qualitative context by labeling chemical compounds as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ depending on various chemical properties. These qualities of hard and soft acids and bases are as follows:
|Hard Acid and Base
|Soft Acid and Base
|Atomic/Ionic Radius (Class A)
|Oxidation State (Class B)
|Low or Zero
|Electronegativity (Class C)
This definition allows for some definitions of certain molecules to be defined as acids or bases that are normally not considered acids or bases. For example, Cr3+ is a hard acid while Hg2+ is a soft acid.
Within this definition, acids and bases generally interact in such a way that hard-hard interactions and soft-soft interactions are strongest. While this chemical theory is largely qualitative, it also includes a quantitative component. For instance, the ‘softness’ of a base B can be measured using the following reaction and measuring the magnitude of the equilibrium constant:
BH + CH3Hg+ ↔ H+ + CH3HgB
Here, the larger the equilibrium constant, the softer the base. A table of some soft and hard acids can be seen below:
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