Types of Ligands

Types of Ligands

If you’re an organic chemist, you’ve likely seen many different types of ligands in your career. Listed below are the most common ones: Bidentate, Polydentate, Ambident, Spectator, and Spectropolar. These types are classified according to the amount of interaction between their atoms and ligands. To understand the differences between these ligands, consider how they work in a chemical bond.


Bidentate ligands are two-atom molecules with lone pairs that directly coordinate with a central atom. These molecules are often found in biochemistry and are used to attach ions to proteins. Among the many types of bidentate ligands are ethylenediamine, oxalate, phenanthroline, and acetylacetone. Despite their names, each of these molecules can be potentially toxic when inhaled.

Bidentate ligands are the most common type of chelating ligands. These molecules can form two bonds with a central atom at once, while ambidentate ligands can only form one bond at a time. These ligands can bind metal ions of any kind through multiple sites. Bidentate ligands are commonly formed using organic linkers, such as ethylenediamine.

The name ligand comes from the Latin word “ligare,” which means “bond.” In chemistry, ligands are molecules that form a covalent bond with a central metal atom. These molecules are called chelates. They are composed of two types: unsymmetrical and symmetrical. Bidentate ligands have two donor atoms and bond with the central metal ion.

The bivalent ligands include ethylenediamine and oxalate. They tend to donate two pairs of electrons to the metal center. Therefore, they are commonly referred to as chelating ligands. Chelating is a Greek word for claw. Because bivalent ligands have two properties, they can act as both an electron acceptor and an electron-donor.

Bidentate ligands contain one lone pair of hydrogens that can bond with a central metal ion. In addition, they can act as ambidentate ligands. Besides being bidentate, these bidentate ligands are also redox-active. So, what’s the difference between bidentate and tridentate ligands? The answer lies in the molecule’s shape.

Bidentate ligands can also serve as catalysts for reactions involving metal ions. For example, the bidentate ligands acetylacetonate (acac-) coordinate metal ions. They are useful in the chemical vapor deposition of thin films of metal. They also exhibit photoredox reactions. And, in some cases, their catalytic properties are enhanced.


A polydentate ligand is a chelating agent that is attached to a central metal ion by two or more bonds between atoms of the ligand. The resulting complex is called a chelate. In order for a polydentate ligand to work as a chelating agent, the ligand must be polydentate. However, a polydentate ligand does not necessarily have to bind to the same metal as the central atom.

Polydentate ligands are derived from carbon-based compounds with inherent aromaticity, which facilitates the bonding of carbon chains with transition metals. The polydentate ligands that are derived from conjugated carbon chains differ from classic ligands in terms of their dissociation and coordination. These molecules exhibit a broad absorption spectrum and were first used as chelating agents. The polydentate ligands derived from lobsters are the most common examples of such molecules.

Another kind of ligand is monodentate. This ligand has one tooth and binds to the center of a metal ion. Monodentate ligands include chloride ions, water, ammonia, and hydroxide ions. As a chelating ligand, EDTA can attach to a central metal by attaching two nitrogen atoms.

Depending on the number of atoms in the ligand, they may be monodentate, bidentate, or polydentate. EDTA coordinates with a metal ion through four oxygen atoms and two nitrogen atoms. The ligands also vary in size and shape and are categorized according to their degree of coordination with the central metal. They can be either single-chain or multi-chain.

Despite the diversity of molecular structures, chelating ligands have an enhanced affinity for metal ions. Those with a high molecular weight can be readily bound to metal ions through the chelating properties of a multi-dentate ligand. These ligands are commonly found in the inorganic laboratory and have a relatively low degree of conformational freedom. They are said to be “pre-organized” for binding and have little entropy penalty.

Another type of polydentate ligand is EDTA. This ligand binds to a metal ion through six sites. Its chelation strength is greater than that of ligands with lower denticities. In addition, polydentate ligands tend to bond to metal ions more strongly than lower denticities. This is because of entropic factors. For example, EDTA4 is classified as a k6-ligand.


Ambident ligands have two places for coordination to a central atom, the carbon atom, and the nitrogen atom. This means that they are ambivalent in their ability to exchange electrons. Ambidentate ligands are the dominant type of ligand for the adsorption of raw materials and essences to hydrous surfaces. This type of coordination can be significant in marine systems, and many of these compounds can be synthesized from the chemical reactions described above.

A polymer ambidentate ligand has two bonds, one with each atom. Because of this, the ambidentate ligand can bond with two different types of molecules, creating linkage isomers. Linkage isomers are two different compounds with the same molecular formula, but with two different types of ligands. These polymers can form different complexes based on the nature of their coordination.

An ambidentate ligand has two positions in which it can attach to a central atom. In the case of thiocyanate, it can attach to either nitrogen or sulfur, and is, therefore, an ambidentate ligand. A common ambidentate ligand is sulphate (SC) and its two spots are occupied by two different atoms. In addition to this, an ambidentate ligand is monodentate, and essentially the same as a monodentate ligand.

The two main forms of ambidentate ligands can be further distinguished by the number of donor atoms in them. The more donor atoms, the more likely a compound will be an ambidentate ligand. There are many examples of these compounds in nature, but they all share a common trait: they are ambidentate. In addition to reactivity, ambidentate ligands have two places of attachment to a central metal atom.

Another type of ambidentate ligand has two donor atoms. In contrast, a bidentate ligand has two donor atoms: one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom. Consequently, the ambidentate ligand can only form two bonds with a central atom. So a bidentate ligand has two donor atoms and one can only bind to the coordination center.


Spectator ligands are polydentate ligands that are not active in chemical reactions. Instead, they occupy coordination sites, thereby removing an active site from the metal. Spectator ligands have bulky steric structures that stabilize unusual coordination sites and mimic the steric protection of proteins. Moreover, they are inert kinetically.

The n5-C2B9H9Me2 ligand plays a non-spectator role. The ligand’s chemistry is dominated by the metal-metal bond and the alkylidyne groups. This results in the access of tri-metal complexes, a class of dimetal compounds with potential for further synthesis.

non-innocent ligands can bond with metals, although this bonding is often a mystery. They are neutral or “uninnocent”. In chemical reactions, the ligands influence the reactivity of the central atom. For example, the reactivity of a compound depends on the ligand’s reactivity, which determines its rate of redox. Thus, ligand selection is crucial in bioinorganic, medicinal, and environmental chemistry.

A chemically robust ligand is the ketimine anion R2CN-, which is good support for reactive metal fragments. The ketimide complex consists of ThCcarbene and ThNamide. Its reactivity is relatively low. Unlike the metal-ketimide ligands, the ketimide complex has a unique linkage, namely ThNamide-ThNketimide.

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Ammonia is an example of a neutral ligand. It acts as a bridge between the metal and a ligand, allowing two separate metals to form a bond. It is used to stabilize a bond in metal-coordinated compounds. There are two types of ligands: bulky and neutral. Bulky ligands control the steric properties of the metal center.

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