Acids and Bases: pH, Kw, Weak Acids and Bases, and Buffers

Edited by Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), vcdanht, Jen Moreau, kos o5ak and 3 others


Brønsted-Lowry Acids and Bases

The Brønsted-Lowry theory of acids and bases is that: acids are proton donators and bases are proton acceptors.

So, therefore, in an acid-base equilibrium where an acid reacts with a base, you have the proton (or H+ ion) being transferred from the acid to the base. For example.

HCl(aq) + H2O(l) ==>> H3O+(aq) + Cl-(aq)

In this case, the water acts as a base and accepts a proton from the HCl to form a hydroxonium ion (H3O+).


The stronger an acid is, the more it dissociates (separates when dissolved) and therefore the higher the hydrogen ion concentration. However, the concentration of hydrogen ions is often very small in a solution, so we use the following to make it into a more convenient number.

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calculating pH

Remember that the notation [B] means: the concentration of B in mol dm-3. If you haven't studied mathematics to an advanced level, you may not be familiar with logarithms. If this is the case then don't worry. All you need to be able to understand is that there is a 'log' button on all scientific calculators that will calculate this for you.

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So to find the pH of a strong acid, you would simply take the concentration of this acid as the value for [H].

Ionic Product of Water Kw

Water can act as an acid or a base. And the following equilibrium exists in water:

equation of water dissociation

This can be expressed as an equilibrium constant using the concentrations. However, the equilibrium lies very far to the left. This means that very few hydrogen and hydroxide ions are produced and the concentration of water can be taken to be constant. Therefore we get a different expression that is called Kw.

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value of Kw

Now that we have this information it is possible to calculate the pH of strong bases, by a very simple process; have a look at the following example.

calculating the pH of strong bases using Kw

Ka and Weak Acids

As addressed above, strong acids like HCl, and bases like NaOH will dissociate (dissolve into their ions) fully. However, a weak acid will only partially dissociate in solution. Ka is known as the acid dissociation constant it is a figure that tells us by how much an acid dissociates and is calculated as follows:

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calculating Ka

You will note that there is also an expression for pKa, this is a value that is used for the same reason as pH: it is more convenient than very small values in standard form. So to convert from pKa to Ka, you simply do 10 {to the power of} -pKa.

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Now it is possible for you to calculate the pH of a weak acid using this information. Have a look at the worked example below.

calculating the pH of a weak acid using Ka


A buffer solution can resist changes in pH when small amounts of acid or base are added. An acidic buffer maintains a pH below 7 and consists of a weak acid and its salt. A basic buffer maintains pH above 7 and consists of a weak acid and its salt.

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For example, an acidic buffer could contain ethanoic acid and sodium ethanoate. This will produce the following reactions:

equilibria of ethanoic acid and sodium ethanoate as an acidic buffer

The equilibrium for the first reaction is far to the left and the equilibrium for the second reaction is pretty much 100% to the right. If an acid is added the H+ reacts with the excess CH3COO- and this become ethanoic acid, which doesn't change the equilibrium. If a base is added the OH- reacts with hydrogen from reaction 1 to become water. However, this disrupts the equilibrium and more H+ is produced to compensate.

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Questions and Answers

Does the value of Kw remain constant when the solution becomes acidic or basic due to hydrolysis of salt?

When few drops of acid or is added to water Kw remains constant does the same happens in case hydrolysis of salts. I want to understand the topic completely and to know about the concepts in detail

Kw represents the dissociation of water at normal condition and at 25ºC. This value is constant and is not affected whether the solution is acidic or basic. Its value is equal to 10-14. Maybe you are talking about Ka and Kb. These values represent the acid and base dissociation constants respectively which means how a certain acid is dissociated under specific conditions.

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Can you explain the general idea of titration for me?

Titration is the process through which we can find the concentration of an unknown solution. One solution with a known concentration is added in the burette and the other solution will be in the flask. Usually, an indicator (a color) is used to determine the end of titration.

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In order to solve exercises related to titration, you will mostly be asked to find out the unknown concentration. First, you have to find out the initial number of moles of the known solution (in the biuret) and find the Veq (the volume at the equivalence point). To find the concentration, most of the time you will use the formula: C1V1/C2V2. Sometimes, the steps are a little bit more complicated by giving dissociation constants, where you have to find out the concentration of the solution in the biuret first and then use the value in the formula.

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Referencing this Article

If you need to reference this article in your work, you can copy-paste the following depending on your required format:

APA (American Psychological Association)
Acids and Bases: pH, Kw, Weak Acids and Bases, and Buffers. (2017). In ScienceAid. Retrieved Sep 25, 2017, from

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MLA (Modern Language Association) "Acids and Bases: pH, Kw, Weak Acids and Bases, and Buffers." ScienceAid, Accessed 25 Sep 2017.

Chicago / Turabian "Acids and Bases: pH, Kw, Weak Acids and Bases, and Buffers." Accessed Sep 25, 2017.

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Article Info

Categories : Physical

Recent edits by: SarMal, Sim, kos o5ak

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