“What happens when two elements of different oxidation numbers magnitudes come into contact with one another?”
Let’s think about something. Different elements tend to have different electronegativity. This different electronegativity gives different elements a tendency to obtain different ionic charges when near other atoms. So with this information, what can we construct when such an event occurs?
Well, let’s organize some information. Let’s classify these different ionic tendencies as oxidation numbers, or the number of charge that an element has when it reacts with another one. And let’s classify the current ionic charge that an element is in as an oxidation state. So when an element is by itself, it has an oxidation number of zero, but when it reacts with an element it will have it’s oxidation number. The elements that become positive are called oxidized ions and the elements that become negative are called reduced ions. These types of reactions are called oxidation-reduction reactions
Now let’s put this framework into reality. Let’s take two elements, lithium [li], with an oxidation number of +1, and fluoride [f], with an oxidation number of -1. Before these two elements combine, they will have an oxidation state of zero, but when they react with one another, they will obtain their oxidation states of +1 and -1. We can represent this symbolically with Li + F → LiF, with LiF being called lithium fluoride.
To go further, let’s try a second example. First, let’s take two chemicals that we all know, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen has an oxidation number of +1, and oxygen has an oxidation number of -2. So when the chemicals react, not only will the elements become ionized, but there must be two hydrogen atoms to balance out the negative charge of the oxygen atom. We can represent this symbolically as 2H+O→ H_2O [water]