Main Difference – Sulphuric Acid vs Sulphurous Acid
Sulphur is a chemical element having the chemical symbol “S” and atomic number 16. The electron configuration of sulphur is [Ne] 3s²3p⁴. Therefore, it has 6 electrons in the outermost electron shell that can participate in chemical bonding. Sulphur can make a maximum of 6 covalent bonds. It forms a wide variety of chemical compounds. Sulphuric acid and Sulphurous acid are two such compounds which are acids. The main difference between sulphuric acid and sulphurous acid is that sulphuric acid has the chemical formula H2so4 and is a good oxidizing agent whereas sulphurous acid has the chemical formula H2SO3 and is a good reducing agent.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is Sulphuric Acid
– Definition, Chemical Properties, Reactions
2. What is Sulphurous Acid
– Definition, Chemical Properties
3. What is the Difference Between Sulphuric Acid and Sulphurous Acid
– Comparison of Key Differences
Key Terms: Atomic Number, Covalent Bonds, Oxidation State, Reducing Agent, Sulphur, Sulphuric Acid, Sulphurous Acid, Tetrahedral, Trigonal Pyramidal
What is Sulphuric Acid
Sulphuric acid is an acid having the chemical formula H2SO4. At room temperature, it is a colorless and odorless, syrupy liquid. The molar mass of sulphuric acid is 98.079 g/mol. It is a strong acid and is corrosive. Therefore, one should take care when handling this acid.
The melting point of sulphuric acid is 10oC, and the boiling point is 337 °C. When considering the chemical structure of Sulphuric acid, the sulphur atom is in the middle of the molecule. Two –OH groups are bonded to the sulphur atom via single covalent bonds. Two oxygen atoms are bonded to the sulphur atoms via double bonds. The molecule has a tetrahedral structure.
The sulfuric molecule has two –O-H bonds which are very polar. Due to this polarity, the H atoms can easily be lost. The ionization of sulfuric acid occurs in two steps.
H2SO4(aq) + H2O(l) → HSO4–(aq) + H3O+(aq)
HSO4–(aq) + H2O(l) → SO4-2(aq) + H3O+(aq)
Sulfuric acid is a strong oxidizing agent in concentrated conditions. But when it is diluted, the oxidizing strength is reduced. For example, at higher temperatures, concentrated sulfuric acid can oxidize Br– into Br2.
2HBr(aq) + H2SO4(aq) → Br2(aq) + SO2(aq) + 2 H2O(l)
The oxidation state of the sulphur atom in sulphuric acid is +6. It is the maximum oxidation state sulphur atom can hold. Therefore, sulphuric acid can be reduced to lower oxidation states, but it cannot act as a reducing agent.
What is Sulphurous Acid
Sulphurous acid is an acid having the chemical formula H2SO3. It is a covalent compound containing only covalent chemical bonds. The molar mass of sulphurous acid is 82.07 g/mol. Sulphurous acid is a weak acid and unstable. It is formed when sulphur dioxide (SO2) is dissolved in water.
The chemical geometry of sulphurous acid is trigonal pyramidal. Although the electron geometry of the molecule is tetrahedral, the molecular geometry is trigonal pyramidal due to the presence of a lone electron pair.
Sulphurous acid cannot be isolated as the pure compound because it is formed only in the aqueous solution. Sulphurous acid (aqueous solution) is a reducing agent. That is because the sulphur atom in this compound is in the oxidation state +4 and it can be further oxidized to the highest oxidation state of sulphur; +6. Sulfurous acid also acts as a bleaching agent.
Difference Between Sulphuric Acid and Sulphurous Acid
Sulphuric Acid: Sulphuric acid is an acid having the chemical formula H2SO4.
Sulphurous Acid: Sulphurous acid is an acid having the chemical formula H2SO3.
Sulphuric Acid: The molar mass of Sulphuric acid is 98.079 g/mol.
Sulphurous Acid: The molar mass of Sulphurous acid is 82.07 g/mol.
Oxidation State of Sulphur
Sulphuric Acid: The oxidation state of sulphur atom in Sulphuric acid is +6.
Sulphurous Acid: The oxidation state of sulphur atom in Sulphurous acid is +4.
Sulphuric Acid: The Sulphuric acid molecule has a tetrahedral structure.
Sulphurous Acid: The Sulphurous acid molecule has a trigonal pyramidal structure.
Sulphuric Acid: Sulphuric acid is a good oxidizing agent.
Sulphurous Acid: Sulphurous acid is a good reducing agent.
Sulphuric acid and sulphurous acid are acidic covalent compounds containing S, H and O atoms. The main difference between sulphuric acid and sulphurous acid is that sulphuric acid has the chemical formula h2so4 whereas sulphurous acid has the chemical formulah2so3.
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2. “Sulfurous acid.” Chemistry Learner, Available here.
3. “Sulfurous acid.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Dec. 2017, Available here.
1. “Sulfuric acid chemical structure” By DMacks (talk) – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Sulfurous-acid-2D-pyramidal” By Benjah-bmm27 – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia