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The environmental fate of the tungstate (VI) oxyanion [ e.g. mono tungstate and several polytungstate, generally expressed by W (VI)] is largely controlled by sorption on soil minerals, especially on iron oxide minerals. Molecular scale evaluation of W (VI) retention on iron oxides in the presence of competing oxyanions is scarce in literature. Here we report surface interaction mechanisms of W (VI) on hematite in the presence of phosphate (P) using macroscopic and in situ attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopic experiments. Batch sorption experiments were conducted using 2 g L−1 hematite and 100 μM W (VI) and P, in single ion system and in binary mixtures as a function of pH (4–11). In situ ATR-FTIR spectroscopic evaluation of P and W (VI) sorption on hematite was also carried out. The results from macroscopic experiments indicated that W (VI) sorption on hematite was not affected by P when W (VI) was added first. The influence of P on W (VI) sorption was noticed when W (VI) & P were added simultaneously or P was added first. The in situ ATR-FTIR spectroscopic data corroborated these findings. In addition, the spectroscopic data revealed that in the presence of P, the surface complexation mode of W (VI) differed as noted from either the absence of WO antisymmetric infrared (IR) band or the WOW stretching band. This study provides useful information on molecular level understanding of W (VI) surface complexation on hematite in the presence of competing ions such as P.