
Could you please tell me why the p is little and
the H is capitalized? Our Science book doesn't
explain it. Thanks, Lia Simnacher

Question Date: 20050407   Answer 1:
"pH" stands for "power of Hydrogen" (it has to do
with the concentration of hydrogen ions in a
sample since these concentrations are usually
very small they are measured in "powers" i.e.
0.001 mol/L of hydrogen would have a power of 3
and 0.0000001 mol/L of hydrogen would have a power
of 7). The H is capitalized because it is the
atomic symbol for the element hydrogen and the
first letter of atomic symbols are always capitalized.
  Answer 2:
pH is an old abbreviation for a french description of the acidity of water. The French term is "puissance d'hydrogen", which means "power or strength of Hydrogen". The p is small because it refers to a word. The H must be capitalized because the first letter of abbreviations for chemical elements (in this case Hydrogen) are always capitalized. Examples would be Ni for nickel, O for Oxygen, etc.
In the scientific world, p has come to refer to the inverse logarithm of the concentration of an element, so people now refer to pOH as log[OH] , when in reality this means "puissance d'hydroxide" (the brackets mean concentration, or amount per volume, OH is hydroxide, the ion which combines with H to
form water, HOH or H_{2}O).
  Answer 3:
The 'H' in pH refers to the concentration of
hydrogen ions in a solution. The chemical symbol for hydrogen is H, and it's always capitalized.
The 'p' is just a mathematical symbol that means'negative logarithm.' Logarithm is usually abbreviated 'log'; logs are an efficient way of dealing with exponents. If y = 10^{x}, then log y =
x. So if the concentration of H = 10^{6} M, then log H = 6. If you multiply this by 1, you get the negative logarithm, so pH = 6. (If the math
doesn't quite make sense, your teacher can
probably help explain logarithms).
Using negative logs is just a convenient way of dealing with the large range of concentrations that chemists have to deal with. Unfortunately I'm not sure why 'p' is the abbreviation for negative logarithm.
  Answer 4:
"pH" stands for "power of hydrogen", and the atomic symbol for hydrogen is H. Because the first (or, in this case, the only) letter of an
elemental symbol in chemistry is always
capitalized, the H is capitalized. The p is not
capitalized because it is not an element, and
capitalizing it would indicate that we were
talking about phosphorous, for which P is the
elemental symbol.
Click Here to return to the search form.





Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use


