If a water molecule is neutral, how do water molecules attract one another by electric force and form water?

This makes no sense to me (I'm new to physics) and my textbook didn't explain this well.


2 Answers 2


The water molecule is neutral on overall basis, i.e: the water molecule as a whole has no net charge.

enter image description here

The water molecule is not linear rather it has a bent shape with two hydrogens on the same side. This happens because of the lone-pair-bond-pair repulsions.

The oxygen has is a more electronegative element than hydrogen, i.e: oxygen has high electron-attracting power. Therefore, it attracts the bond pair electrons towards itself which gives a partial negative charge to the oxygen and a partial positive charge to the hydrogen. This gives a possibility of the positive part of a molecule being attracted towards the negative part of another molecule. This is how water molecules attract each other. The bonds formed between the hydrogens and the oxygen are termed as hydrogen bonds and these are quite strong bonds which is why water with very low molecular mass has unusually high melting and boiling boint.

enter image description here

As a matter of fact, even molecules with zero dipole moment can also attract each other. There exists weak Van der Waals forces (London Dispersion Forces) which are caused by induced dipoles. This is responsible for helium to to stay in liquid form at 4K.

London Dispersion Force - Induced Dipole Forces


This is a more general answer.

Atoms and molecules are quantum mechanical entities. This means that the "shape" of atoms depends on the solution of quantum mechanical equations, which give probabilities for locating in space the electrons that are bound to the nucleus of the atom with the electric potential provided by the protons of the nucleus. The electrons are located in atomic orbitals around the much smaller in space nucleus which have the quantum numbers of the solutions.

In this orbitals table one can see the complicated shapes available in space for the negatively charged electrons. What happens to the electric field of an atom with these, almost LEGO like orbitals, is the following: where the electrons are, the positive charge of the nucleus is neutralized/shielded, but where they are not, the positive charge dominates and thus even though overall the atom is neutral in space it has an electric field with attractive and repulsive possibilities in spatial orientation.

Thus an atom can form a stable molecule with an other atom of its species, as O2 for example, the atoms fitting each other like LEGO blocks.

Molecular orbitals have a similar topological logic :


Suitably aligned f atomic orbitals overlap to form phi molecular orbital (a phi bond)

  • $\begingroup$ I am almost 100% certain that the OP doesn't know about molecular orbitals and shapes of orbitals. If he knew, he wouldn't have asked this question because this question is just too silly. Anyway +1 since your answer is far better especially for those who end up here from Google Searches. $\endgroup$
    – Yashas
    Jun 13, 2016 at 11:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @YashasSamaga thanks , the searches are the reason I decided to answer, the other answer is specific to the question. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Jun 13, 2016 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ Besides possibly being too technical for the OP, this doesn't even really answer his question, since water is held together by hydrogen bonds, and the OP is probably confused after reading something that is trying to explain hydrogen bonds. You're talking about covalent bonds. $\endgroup$ Jun 13, 2016 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe he should complete his answer by adding few points about electrons being pulled towards a particular nucleus which causes a dipole. Maybe a bit more on induced dipoles bu showing the electrons of a bond of a molecule with 0-dipole being pulled towards one side by the influence of a nearby dipole. $\endgroup$
    – Yashas
    Jun 13, 2016 at 14:34

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