Spontaniety Summary

Key Concepts and Summary

Chemical and physical processes have a natural tendency to occur in one direction under certain conditions. A spontaneous process occurs without the need for a continual input of energy from some external source, while a nonspontaneous process requires such. Systems undergoing a spontaneous process may or may not experience a gain or loss of energy, but they will experience a change in the way matter and/or energy is distributed within the system.

Practice Questions

What is a spontaneous reaction?


A reaction has a natural tendency to occur and takes place without the continual input of energy from an external source.

What is a nonspontaneous reaction?

Indicate whether the following processes are spontaneous or nonspontaneous.

(a) Liquid water freezing at a temperature below its freezing point

(b) Liquid water freezing at a temperature above its freezing point

(c) The combustion of gasoline

(d) A ball thrown into the air

(e) A raindrop falling to the ground

(f) Iron rusting in a moist atmosphere


(a) spontaneous; (b) nonspontaneous; (c) spontaneous; (d) nonspontaneous; (e) spontaneous; (f) spontaneous

A helium-filled balloon spontaneously deflates overnight as He atoms diffuse through the wall of the balloon. Describe the redistribution of matter and/or energy that accompanies this process.

Many plastic materials are organic polymers that contain carbon and hydrogen. The oxidation of these plastics in air to form carbon dioxide and water is a spontaneous process; however, plastic materials tend to persist in the environment. Explain.


Although the oxidation of plastics is spontaneous, the rate of oxidation is very slow. Plastics are therefore kinetically stable and do not decompose appreciably even over relatively long periods of time.