What is the Difference Between Adhesive and Cohesive Forces

Adhesive and cohesive forces are core concepts in physics and chemistry, explaining how molecules interact with each other and with surfaces. These interactions have widespread implications in fields like materials science, biology, and engineering. This article aims to provide an overview of adhesive and cohesive forces, their importance across various disciplines, and their practical applications in real-world scenarios and scientific studies.

What is the difference between adhesive and cohesive forces? Adhesive forces refer to the attraction between molecules of different substances, whereas cohesive forces involve the attraction between molecules of the same substance.

Key Areas Covered

1. What are Adhesive Forces
      – Definition, Features
2. What are Cohesive Forces
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Adhesive and Cohesive Forces
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Adhesive and Cohesive Forces
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Adhesive and Cohesive Forces
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Adhesive Forces, Cohesive Forces

Difference Between Adhesive and Cohesive Forces - Comparison Summary

What are Adhesive Forces

Adhesive forces play a crucial role in the interactions between molecules or surfaces of different materials. These forces are responsible for the attraction between unlike substances, leading to their ability to stick together. One of the primary contributors to adhesive forces is van der Waals forces, encompassing dipole-dipole interactions, London dispersion forces, and hydrogen bonding.

Dipole-dipole interactions occur between molecules with permanent dipoles, where positive and negative charges attract each other. On the other hand, London dispersion forces result from temporary fluctuations in electron distribution, causing temporary dipoles and inducing attraction between adjacent molecules.

Adhesive Forces

Figure 1: Dew Drops Adhering to a Spider Web

Hydrogen bonding involves a specific type of dipole-dipole interaction, where a hydrogen atom covalently bonded to a highly electronegative atom (such as oxygen or nitrogen) experiences attraction with another electronegative atom nearby. This type of bonding is particularly strong and contributes significantly to adhesive forces in materials like water.

Understanding adhesive forces is crucial in various applications, such as in the development of adhesives and coatings and even in biological systems where adhesive forces govern interactions between cells and tissues. Engineers leverage these forces to design materials with enhanced bonding properties while researchers explore the intricacies of adhesive interactions at the molecular level for advancements in diverse fields, from nanotechnology to medical science. Overall, adhesive forces play a fundamental role in shaping the properties and functionality of materials across industries.

What are Cohesive Forces

Cohesive forces arise from interactions between molecules of a substance, promoting unity within the material. In liquids, cohesive forces primarily manifest as attractive forces between molecules, fostering a resistance to separation.

In water, for instance, hydrogen bonding represents a significant cohesive force. The positively charged hydrogen atoms of one water molecule are attracted to the negatively charged oxygen atoms of neighboring molecules. This intermolecular bonding gives water its unique properties, such as surface tension and capillary action.

Cohesive Forces

Figure 2: Cohesion Causes Water to Form Drops

Similarly, in solids, cohesive forces are responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of materials. Ionic, covalent, and metallic bonds are examples of cohesive forces that bind atoms together in solids, determining their mechanical strength and overall stability. The nature and strength of these bonds influence the material’s properties, ranging from brittleness to malleability.

Understanding cohesive forces is crucial in designing materials with specific characteristics. Engineers leverage this knowledge when developing adhesives, coatings, and composite materials. The cohesive forces between molecules contribute to the overall behavior and performance of these substances.

In biological systems, cohesive forces are fundamental to the functioning of tissues and fluids within organisms. Cell adhesion, for instance, relies on cohesive forces to maintain the structural integrity of tissues and enable various physiological processes.

Similarities Between Adhesive and Cohesive Forces

  1. Adhesive and cohesive forces arise from van der Waals forces or hydrogen bonding between molecules.
  2. Both contribute to surface tension, affecting the behavior of liquids and their ability to wet or stick to surfaces.

Difference Between Adhesive and Cohesive Forces


Adhesive forces are the forces responsible for the attraction between molecules of different substances, causing them to stick together when they come into contact. On the other hand, cohesive forces are the forces that occur between molecules of the same substance, causing them to stick together and form a cohesive bond.


While adhesive forces occur between different substances, cohesive forces exist between similar molecules.


Adhesive forces are crucial for substances sticking together, like water on glass. Cohesive forces keep identical molecules together, such as water molecules forming droplets.


Adhesive forces contribute to phenomena like capillary action, whereas cohesive forces affect properties like surface tension.


The main difference between adhesive and cohesive forces is that adhesive forces involve the attraction between molecules of different substances, whereas cohesive forces involve the attraction between molecules of the same substance.

FAQ: Adhesive and Cohesive Forces

1. What is an example of cohesion?

An example of cohesion is how water molecules stick together, causing water droplets to form. This happens because water molecules are attracted to each other, pulling them into a spherical shape on surfaces.

2. Is water cohesive or adhesive?

Water is highly cohesive—it is the highest of the non-metallic liquids. Water is sticky and clumps together into drops because of its cohesive properties.

3. Is cement adhesive or cohesive?

Cement possesses adhesive and cohesive properties, enabling it to bond mineral fragments into a solid structure. Its adhesive nature allows it to firmly attach to surfaces like bricks or stones, while its cohesive properties maintain the integrity of the cement mixture, ensuring structural stability and durability.

4. Is adhesive stronger than cohesive in water?

In many cases, adhesive forces between water molecules and other surfaces can be stronger than the cohesive forces among water molecules themselves. This is why water adheres to surfaces like glass or paper, forming a meniscus shape. However, the strength of adhesive and cohesive forces can vary depending on factors such as surface properties and environmental conditions.

5. Can water be both adhesive and cohesive?

Yes, water can show both cohesive and adhesive properties. For instance, when poured into a measuring cylinder, water sticks to the inner surface of the glass due to adhesion, while also sticking to itself, resulting in a concave meniscus at the water’s surface.


1. “Adhesion.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.
2. “Cohesive and Adhesive Forces.” LibreText Chemistry.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Spider web Luc Viatour” By I, Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Drops I” By Staffan Enbom from Finland – Flickr.com – (CC BY 2.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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