A comparison of the behavior of functional/basis set combinations for hydrogen-bonding in the water dimer with emphasis on basis set superposition error

J Comput Chem. 2011 Jun;32(8):1519-27. doi: 10.1002/jcc.21729. Epub 2011 Feb 15.


We evaluate the performance of ten functionals (B3LYP, M05, M05-2X, M06, M06-2X, B2PLYP, B2PLYPD, X3LYP, B97D, and MPWB1K) in combination with 16 basis sets ranging in complexity from 6-31G(d) to aug-cc-pV5Z for the calculation of the H-bonded water dimer with the goal of defining which combinations of functionals and basis sets provide a combination of economy and accuracy for H-bonded systems. We have compared the results to the best non-density functional theory (non-DFT) molecular orbital (MO) calculations and to experimental results. Several of the smaller basis sets lead to qualitatively incorrect geometries when optimized on a normal potential energy surface (PES). This problem disappears when the optimization is performed on a counterpoise (CP) corrected PES. The calculated interaction energies (ΔEs) with the largest basis sets vary from -4.42 (B97D) to -5.19 (B2PLYPD) kcal/mol for the different functionals. Small basis sets generally predict stronger interactions than the large ones. We found that, because of error compensation, the smaller basis sets gave the best results (in comparison to experimental and high-level non-DFT MO calculations) when combined with a functional that predicts a weak interaction with the largest basis set. As many applications are complex systems and require economical calculations, we suggest the following functional/basis set combinations in order of increasing complexity and cost: (1) D95(d,p) with B3LYP, B97D, M06, or MPWB1k; (2) 6-311G(d,p) with B3LYP; (3) D95++(d,p) with B3LYP, B97D, or MPWB1K; (4) 6-311++G(d,p) with B3LYP or B97D; and (5) aug-cc-pVDZ with M05-2X, M06-2X, or X3LYP.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Dimerization
  • Hydrogen Bonding*
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Water