What is the Difference Between Resonance and Tautomerism

The main difference between resonance and tautomerism is that resonance deals with the delocalization of electrons in a molecule, which leads to multiple equivalent Lewis structures, whereas tautomerism involves the rapid interconversion between isomers due to the migration of atoms or groups.

Resonance and tautomerism are two concepts in chemistry that reveal dynamic behaviors of molecules that extend beyond their simple structural representations. Resonance explores the distribution of electrons within molecules, challenging the notion of fixed bonds. Tautomerism, on the other hand, explores the dynamic equilibrium between distinct structural forms, offering a glimpse into the ever-shifting nature of chemical species.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Resonance
      – Definition, Features 
2. What is Tautomerism
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Resonance and Tautomerism
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Resonance and Tautomerism
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Resonance, Tautomerism

Difference Between Resonance and Tautomerism - Comparison Summary

What is Resonance

At its core, resonance arises from the quantum nature of electrons, specifically their wave-like behavior. In traditional Lewis structures, we represent molecules using lines and dots to represent bonds and lone pairs of electrons, respectively. However, these static representations often fall short of capturing the dynamic nature of electron distribution within certain molecules. The concept of resonance addresses this limitation by proposing that certain molecules can be accurately represented by multiple Lewis structures interconnected by double-headed arrows. These distinct representations are called resonance structures, and they differ only in the arrangement of electrons while retaining the same positions of atoms. A classic example is the benzene molecule (C6H6), which a single Lewis structure cannot accurately represent due to its unique electronic behavior.

In benzene, all carbon-carbon bonds are identical, and the molecule possesses a planar hexagonal ring of alternating single and double bonds. Early attempts to describe this system using a single Lewis structure with alternating double bonds failed to explain benzene’s stability. However, the introduction of resonance theory provided a breakthrough. Benzene is now depicted as a hybrid of two resonance structures, where the π (pi) electrons are delocalized over the entire ring. This delocalization of electrons is a key feature of resonance, endowing benzene with exceptional stability and reducing its reactivity compared to typical alkenes.

Compare Resonance and Tautomerism

Figure 1: Resonance

The driving force behind electron delocalization in resonance is the minimization of electron repulsion and stabilization of the molecule’s electronic structure. By spreading electrons over a larger area, the energy levels are more evenly distributed, resulting in lower overall energy for the molecule. This enhanced stability manifests in several ways, such as increased bond lengths and reduced reactivity towards electrophilic addition reactions.

What is Tautomerism

The concept of tautomerism arises from the migration of a hydrogen atom or a group of atoms within a molecule, leading to the formation of a different constitutional isomer. This interconversion process occurs spontaneously and is reversible, establishing an equilibrium between the different tautomers. The driving force behind tautomerism is the stabilization of the resulting tautomers by the redistribution of electron density and the establishment of new bonding interactions.

The most prevalent type of tautomerism in organic chemistry is keto-enol tautomerism. This type involves the interconversion between a keto form and an enol form of a molecule. The keto form typically contains a carbonyl group (C=O), while the enol form has a hydroxyl group (-OH) connected to a carbon-carbon double bond (C=C).

Resonance vs Tautomerism

Figure 2: Keto Enol Tautomerism

Acids or bases catalyze the equilibrium between the keto and enol forms, and it is mainly driven by the distribution of electrons and the resonance stabilization of the enol form. In the enol form, the π (pi) electrons from the carbon-carbon double bond are delocalized onto the oxygen atom, creating a partial negative charge on the oxygen and a partial positive charge on the adjacent carbon. This charge distribution contributes to the overall stability of the enol tautomer.

Tautomerism, extending beyond traditional organic chemistry, is observed in various chemical fields. In coordination chemistry, metal complexes exhibit ligand tautomerism, influencing properties and reactivities for applications in catalysis and material science. In biochemistry, tautomerism plays a crucial role in nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), affecting DNA replication and transcription, leading to genetic diversity and possible diseases.

Similarities Between Resonance and Tautomerism

  • Resonance and tautomerism involve the redistribution of electrons within molecules.
  • Both resonance and tautomerism give rise to multiple forms or isomers of a molecule.
  • Both resonance and tautomerism are dynamic processes that involve an equilibrium between different forms.
  • Resonance and tautomerism can significantly influence the properties and reactivity of molecules.

Difference Between Resonance and Tautomerism


Resonance primarily deals with the delocalization of electrons in molecules, leading to multiple resonance structures that contribute to the overall electronic structure. On the other hand, tautomerism involves the rapid interconversion between isomeric forms, driven by proton migration and the establishment of new bonding arrangements.

Movement of Atoms

In resonance, there is no actual movement of atoms; only electrons are redistributed, while in tautomerism, there is a physical movement of atoms, specifically the migration of hydrogen or functional groups.

Types of Isomers

Resonance involves different resonance structures that represent the same molecule but with different arrangements of electrons. These resonance structures are not separate isomers; instead, they are multiple ways to depict the electronic distribution in a molecule. Tautomerism involves true isomers, known as tautomers, that exist in equilibrium with each other. Each tautomer has a different arrangement of atoms and electrons, resulting in distinct chemical and physical properties.

Interconversion Rate

Resonance structures do not interconvert with each other. Instead, they represent different ways to depict the electronic structure of the molecule. Meanwhile, tautomers interconvert rapidly under normal conditions due to the movement of atoms. This process is reversible and driven by factors such as the stability of the tautomers and the presence of catalysts.


Resonance structures contribute to the overall stability of the molecule by delocalizing electrons, resulting in a lower energy state. In contrast, the stability of tautomers depends on their respective electronic and steric interactions. Often, one tautomer is more stable than the other, and thermodynamic factors determine the equilibrium position.

Application and Significance

Resonance is important for understanding the electronic structure and stability of molecules, particularly in systems with conjugated pi bonds, such as aromatic compounds and resonance-stabilized intermediates in organic reactions. Tautomerism is important in various chemical and biological processes, including enzyme-catalyzed reactions, DNA replication, and drug design. It can influence the reactivity, pharmacological properties, and biological activities of molecules.


Resonance deals with the delocalization of electrons in a molecule, which leads to multiple equivalent Lewis structures, whereas tautomerism involves the rapid interconversion between isomers due to the migration of atoms or groups. Thus, this is the main difference between resonance and tautomerism.


1. “Resonance – Definition, Examples & Resonant Frequency With Formula.” Byju’s.
2. “Tautomerism – Meaning, Definition, Types, Examples, Reactions.” Byju’s.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Benzonitrile resonance” By Fung06831 – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Keto enol tautomerism” By Pen1234567 – Own work (CC BY 3.0) 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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