Balanced ionic equations - Higher

A balanced ionic equation shows the reacting ions in a chemical reaction. These equations can be used to represent what happens in precipitation reactions or displacement reactions.

Precipitation reactions

In a typical precipitation reaction, two soluble reactants form an insoluble product and a soluble product.

For example, silver nitrate solution reacts with sodium chloride solution. Insoluble solid silver chloride and sodium nitrate solution form:

AgNO3(aq) + NaCl(aq) → AgCl(s) + NaNO3(aq)

The Na+ ions and NO3- ions remain separate in the sodium nitrate solution and do not form a precipitate. Ions that remain essentially unchanged during a reaction are called spectator ions.This means these can be ignored when writing the ionic equation. Only how the solid silver chloride forms is needed to be shown:

Ag+(aq) + Cl-(aq) → AgCl(s)

In a balanced ionic equation:

  • the number of positive and negative charges is the same
  • the numbers of atoms of each element on the left and right are the same

Displacement reactions

Displacement reactions take place when a reactive element displaces a less reactive element from one of its compounds.

A common type of displacement reaction takes place when a reactive metal reacts with the salt of a less reactive metal. For example, copper reacts with silver nitrate solution to produce silver and copper(II) nitrate solution:

2AgNO3(aq) + Cu(s) → 2Ag(s) + Cu(NO3)2(aq)

In this reaction, the NO3- ions remain in the solution and do not react - they are the spectator ions in this reaction. So, they can be removed from the ionic equation:

2Ag+(aq) + Cu(s) → 2Ag(s) + Cu2+(aq)


Explain why this ionic equation is balanced:

Ba2+(aq) + SO42-(aq) → BaSO4(s)

There are the same numbers of atoms of each element on both sides of the equation. The total charge on both sides is also the same (zero).


Balance this ionic equation, which represents the formation of a silver carbonate precipitate:

Ag+(aq) + CO32-(aq) → Ag2CO3(s)

2Ag+(aq) + CO32-(aq) → Ag2CO3(s)


Balance this ionic equation, which represents the displacement of iodine from iodide ions by chlorine:

Cl2(aq) + I-(aq) → I2(aq) + Cl-(aq)

Cl2(aq) + 2I-(aq) → I2(aq) + 2Cl-(aq)

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