Calculating the Empirical Formula

Example: What is the empirical formula of magnesium chloride if 0.96 g of magnesium combines with 2.84 g of chlorine?

Step 1: Put the symbols for each element involved at the top of the page.

Step 2: Underneath, write down the masses of each element combining.

Step 3: Divide by their relative atomic mass (Ar).

Step 4: Divide all the numbers by the smallest of these numbers to give a whole number ratio.

Step 5: Use this to give the empirical formula.

(If your ratio is 1:1.5 then multiple each number by 2

If your ratio is 1:1.33 then x3. If your ratio is 1:1.25 x4)


Calculating the Molecular Formula

If you know the empirical formula and the relative formula mass you can work out the molecular formula of a compound.

Example: A compound has the empirical formula CH2, and its relative formula mass is 56. Calculate the molecular formula.

Step 1: Calculate the relative mass of the empirical formula.

Step 2: Find out the number of times the relative mass of the empirical formula goes into the Mr of the compound.

Step 3: This tells how many times bigger the molecule formula is compared to the empirical formula.


Empirical formula calculations involving water of crystallisation

When you heat a salt that contains water of crystallisation, the water is driven off leaving the anhydrous (without water) salt behind. For example, barium chloride crystals contain water of crystallisation, and therefore would have the formula  BaCl2.nH2O  where the symbol ‘n’ indicates the number of molecules of water of crystallisation. This value can be calculated using the following method.

Example: If you heated hydrated barium chloride (BaCl2.nH2O) in a crucible you might end up with the following results.


Step 1: Calculate the mass of the anhydrous barium chloride (BaCl2) and the water (H2O) driven off.


Step 2: Use the empirical formula method to find the value of n in the formula.