Valence shell electron pair repulsion (VSEPR) theory is a model in chemistry used to predict the shape of individual molecules based upon the extent of electron-pair electrostatic repulsion. It is also named Gillespie-Nyholm theory after its two main developers.
The premise of VSEPR is that the valence electron pairs surrounding an atom mutually repel each other, and will therefore adopt an arrangement that minimizes this repulsion, thus determining the molecular geometry. The number of electron pairs surrounding an atom, both bonding and nonbonding, is called its steric number.
The “AXE method” of electron counting is commonly used when applying the VSEPR theory. The A represents the central atom and always has an implied subscript one. The X represents the number of sigma bonds between the central atoms and outside atoms. Multiple covalent bonds (double, triple, etc) count as one X.
The E represents the number of lone electron pairs surrounding the central atom. The sum of X and E, known as the steric number, is also associated with the total number of hybridized orbitals used by valence bond theory.
Based on the steric number and distribution of X’s and E’s, VSEPR theory makes the predictions in the following tables. Note that the geometries are named according to the atomic positions only and not the electron arrangement.
For example the description of AX2E1 as bent means that AX2 is a bent molecule without reference to the lone pair, although the lone pair helps to determine the geometry.