How does the law of definite proportions apply to compounds?

1 Answer
Feb 19, 2014

The law of definite proportions states that a compound always contains exactly the same proportion of elements by mass.

This means that the composition of a compound does not depend on its source or its method of preparation.

In water, for example, the mass of oxygen must always have the same ratio to the mass of hydrogen (mass ratio is #"O:H = 7.94:1"#).

To tell if compounds containing the same elements are the same or different, we can determine the ratios of their masses.


Compound 1 contains 15.0 g of hydrogen and 120.0 g oxygen. Compound 2 contains 2.00 g of hydrogen and 32.0g oxygen. Are the compounds the same or different?


Compound 1: #"Mass ratio of O:H" = (120.0 color(red)(cancel(color(black)("g"))))/(15.0 color(red)(cancel(color(black)("g")))) = 8.00#

Compound 2: #"Mass ratio of O:H" = (32.0 color(red)(cancel(color(black)("g"))))/(2.00 color(red)(cancel(color(black)("g")))) = 16.0#

The mass ratios are not the same. The compounds are different.