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For transition metal complexes, the coordination number determines the geometry around the central metal ion. Table 1 compares coordination numbers to molecular geometry. The most common structures of the complexes in coordination compounds are octahedral, tetrahedral, and square planar.

Coordination Number Molecular Geometry Example
2 linear [Ag(NH3)2]+
3 trigonal planar [Cu(CN)3]2
4 tetrahedral(d0 or d10), low oxidation states for M [Ni(CO)4]
4 square planar (d8) [NiCl4]2−
5 trigonal bipyramidal [CoCl5]2−
5 square pyramidal [VO(CN)4]2−
6 octahedral [CoCl6]3−
7 pentagonal bipyramid [ZrF7]3−
8 square antiprism [ReF8]2−
8 dodecahedron [Mo(CN)8]4−
9 and above more complicated structures [ReH9]2−

Table 1. Coordination Numbers and Molecular Geometry.

Unlike main group atoms in which both the bonding and nonbonding electrons determine the molecular shape, the nonbonding d-electrons do not change the arrangement of the ligands. Octahedral complexes have a coordination number of six, and the six donor atoms are arranged at the corners of an octahedron around the central metal ion. Examples are shown in Figure 1. The chloride and nitrate anions in [Co(H2O)6]Cl2 and [Cr(en)3](NO3)3, and the potassium cations in K2[PtCl6], are outside the brackets and are not bonded to the metal ion.


Figure 1. Many transition metal complexes adopt octahedral geometries, with six donor atoms forming bond angles of 90° about the central atom with adjacent ligands. Note that only ligands within the coordination sphere affect the geometry around the metal center.

For transition metals with a coordination number of four, two different geometries are possible: tetrahedral or square planar. In tetrahedral complexes such as [Zn(CN)4]2− (Figure 3), each of the ligand pairs forms an angle of 109.5°. In square planar complexes, such as [Pt(NH3)2Cl2], each ligand has two other ligands at 90° angles (called the cis positions) and one additional ligand at a 180° angle, in the trans position.


Figure 2. Transition metals with a coordination number of four can adopt a tetrahedral geometry (a) as in K2[Zn(CN)4] or a square planar geometry (b) as shown in [Pt(NH3)2Cl2].

This text is adapted from Openstax, Chemistry 2e, Section19.2:Coordination Chemistry of Transition Metals.

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