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QUESTION

# What is the oxidation number for ethyne?

Acetylene is a quite reduced form of carbon; the carbons each have a -I oxidation state.

Note that acetylene is neutral and while we can speak of the of its atoms, we cannot speak of the molecule's oxidation state.

If we break up the C-H bonds we get 2xxH^+, and {C-=C}^(2-) (carbon is more electronegative than hydrogen, so when you (for the purposes of assigning oxidation number) break this bond you put a formal +1 charge on hydrogen, and a formal -1 charge of carbon.

In fact, the acetlyide unit {C-=C}^(2-) occurs as calcium carbide, CaC_2, which is an important industrial feedstock.

More reduced forms of carbon include ethylene, H_2C=CH_2, C^(-II), and the methylene unit of a carbon , -CH_2, C^(-II). Oxidation state assignments are of course formalisms; they do not have real significance other than what we assign for them. When we break a C-C bond in such a process, we conceive we get 2xxC*, i.e. neutral carbon radicals.