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A chemical formula is a way of expressing information about the proportions of atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound, using the standard abbreviations for the chemical elements, and subscripts to indicate the number of atoms involved. For example, water is composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom: the chemical formula is H2O.
A compound can be converted to a different chemical composition by interaction with a second chemical compound via a chemical reaction. In this process, bonds between atoms are broken in both of the interacting compounds, and then bonds are reformed so that new associations are made between atoms. Schematically, this reaction could be described as AB + CD --> AC + BD, where A, B, C, and D are each unique atoms; and AB, CD, AC, and BD are each unique compounds.
There is varying and sometimes inconsistent nomenclature differentiating substances, which include truly non-stoichiometric examples, from chemical compounds, which require the fixed ratios. Many solid chemical substances—for example many silicate minerals—are chemical substances, but do not have simple formulae reflecting chemically bonding of elements to one another in fixed ratios; even so, these crystalline substances are sometimes called "non-stoichiometric compounds". It may be argued that they are related to, rather than being chemical compounds, insofar as the variability in their compositions is often due to either the presence of foreign elements trapped within the crystal structure of an otherwise known true chemical compound, or due to perturbations in structure relative to the known compound that arise because of an excess of deficit of the constituent elements at places in its structure; such non-stoichiometric substances form most of the crust and mantle of the Earth. Other compounds regarded as chemically identical may have varying amounts of heavy or light isotopes of the constituent elements, which changes the ratio of elements by mass slightly.
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Characteristic properties of compounds include that elements in a compound are present in a definite proportion.[this quote needs a citation] For example, the molecule of the compound water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen in a ratio of 2:1.water. In addition, compounds have a definite set of properties, and the elements that comprise a compound do not retain their original properties. For example, hydrogen, which is combustible and non-supportive of combustion, combines with oxygen, which is non-combustible and supportive of combustion, to produce the compound water, which is non-combustible and non-supportive of combustion.
The physical and chemical properties of compounds differ from those of their constituent elements. This is one of the main criteria that distinguish a compound from a mixture of elements or other substances—in general, a mixture's properties are closely related to, and depend on, the properties of its constituents. Another criterion that distinguishes a compound from a mixture is that constituents of a mixture can usually be separated by simple mechanical means, such as filtering, evaporation, or magnetic force, but components of a compound can be separated only by a chemical reaction. However, mixtures can be created by mechanical means alone, but a compound can be created (either from elements or from other compounds, or a combination of the two) only by a chemical reaction.
Some mixtures are so intimately combined that they have some properties similar to compounds and may easily be mistaken for compounds. One example is alloys. Alloys are made mechanically, most commonly by heating the constituent metals to a liquid state, mixing them thoroughly, and then cooling the mixture quickly so that the constituents are trapped in the base metal. Other examples of compound-like mixtures include intermetallic compounds and solutions of alkali metals in a liquid form of ammonia.
A chemical formula is a way of expressing information about the proportions of atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound, using a single line of chemical element symbols, numbers, and sometimes also other symbols, such as parentheses, dashes, brackets, commas and plus (+) and minus (−) signs.
Compounds may be described using formulas in various formats. For compounds that exist as molecules, the formula for the molecular unit is shown. For polymeric materials, such as minerals and many metaloxides, the empirical formula is normally given, e.g. NaCl for table salt.
The elements in a chemical formula are normally listed in a specific order, called the Hill system. In this system, the carbon atoms (if there are any) are usually listed first, any hydrogen atoms are listed next, and all other elements follow in alphabetical order. If the formula contains no carbon, then all of the elements, including hydrogen, are listed alphabetically. There are, however, several important exceptions to the normal rules. For ionic compounds, the positive ion is almost always listed first and the negative ion is listed second. For oxides, oxygen is usually listed last.
In general, organic acids follow the normal rules with C and H coming first in the formula. For example, the formula for trifluoroacetic acid is usually written as C2HF3O2. More descriptive formulas can convey structural information, such as writing the formula for trifluoroacetic acid as CF3CO2H. On the other hand, the chemical formulas for most inorganic acids and bases are exceptions to the normal rules. They are written according to the rules for ionic compounds (positive first, negative second), but they also follow rules that emphasize their Arrhenius definitions. To be specific, the formula for most inorganic acids begins with hydrogen and the formula for most bases ends with the hydroxide ion (OH−). Formulas for inorganic compounds do not often convey structural information, as illustrated by the common use of the formula H2SO4 for a molecule (sulfuric acid) that contains no H-S bonds. A more descriptive presentation would be O2S(OH)2, but it is almost never written this way.
Compounds may have several possible phases. All compounds can exist as solids, at least at low enough temperatures. Molecular compounds may also exist as liquids, gases, and, in some cases, even plasmas. All compounds decompose upon applying heat. The temperature at which such fragmentation occurs is often called the decomposition temperature. Decomposition temperatures are not sharp and depend on pressure, temperature, and the concentration of each species in the compound.