Chemically, water is amphoteric — i.e., it is able to act as either an acid or a base. Occasionally the term hydroxic acid is used when water acts as an acid in a chemical reaction. At a pH of 7 (neutral), the concentration of hydroxide ions (OH−) is equal to that of the hydronium (H3O+) or hydrogen (H+) ions. If the equilibrium is disturbed, the solution becomes acidic (higher concentration of hydronium ions) or basic (higher concentration of hydroxide ions).
Water can act as either an acid or a base in reactions. According to the Brønsted-Lowry system, an acid is defined as a species which donates a proton (an H+ ion) in a reaction, and a base as one which receives a proton. When reacting with a stronger acid, water acts as a base; when reacting with a stronger base, it acts as an acid. For instance, it receives an H+ ion from HCl in the equilibrium:
HCl + H2O ? H3O+ + Cl−
Here water is acting as a base, by receiving an H+ ion.
In the reaction with ammonia, NH3, water donates an H+ ion, and is thus acting as an acid:
NH3 + H2O ? NH4+ + OH−