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Alcohol Practical Group | ChemTalk

Core Ideas

Alcohol is a phrase that’s acquainted to each natural chemists and the typical particular person. On this article, we’ll deal with the natural chemistry utilization of the phrase. You’ll study the construction of alcohol, its classification, its nomenclature, and a few of its reactions. Additionally, you will get to discover a number of examples of alcohols and their real-world makes use of!

Matters Coated in Different Articles

Alcohol Construction

Alcohols are compounds with a hydroxyl group (OH group) bonded to an sp3 hybridized carbon atom. That’s, the carbon with the OH bonds to 3 different issues which are both hydrogen atoms, alkyl teams, or each. This makes alcohol totally different from carboxylic acid, one other widespread hydroxyl-containing practical group as a result of, in carboxylic acids, the carbon with the OH double bonds to a different oxygen atom.

general structure of an alcohol
The final construction of an alcohol
structure of methanol
The construction of methanol, the only alcohol

Classification of Alcohols

The classification of alcohols depends upon what number of alkyl teams are hooked up to the carbon atom with the OH group. With that in thoughts, an alcohol could be categorized as a main, secondary, or tertiary alcohol. 

In a main alcohol, the carbon with the OH group has 1 alkyl group hooked up to it. In a secondary alcohol, the variety of hooked up alkyl teams is 2. And, you guessed it, that quantity is 3 in tertiary alcohols. 

classification of alcohols

By the best way, chemists depend methanol as a main alcohol regardless of it having no alkyl teams attaching to the carbon with the OH.


Phenol is a particular sort of alcohol. The title “phenol” refers each to the household of molecules with an OH group hooked up to an fragrant ring and the only member of that household, C6H5OH. Phenols have a variety of traits which are very totally different from regular alcohols. For instance, due to their skill to type resonance constructions, phenols are far more acidic than regular alcohols. Thus, the reactivity of phenols is totally different from regular alcohols, permitting them to take part in reactions that standard alcohols usually don’t. It is because of this that we are going to not spend an excessive amount of deal with phenols on this article. 

Dopamine, a phenol

Fast Details on Alcohols

  • Construction: A carbon single bonded to an oxygen that’s single bonded to a hydrogen
  • Normal formulation: R-OH or ROH
  • pH: Impartial (round 7). Alcohols are usually weak acids whose most acidic proton is the H of the OH.
  • pKa: Usually from 15 to twenty
    • Methanol (CH3OH): 15.3
    • Ethanol (C2H5OH): 15.9
    • Phenol (C6H5OH): 9.99
  • Solubility: The solubility of an alcohol in polar solvents decreases as the dimensions of the hydrophobic area (usually the hydrocarbon chain) of that alcohol will increase. For instance, methanol and ethanol are miscible in water, whereas nonanol is insoluble in water.
  • IR Spectroscopy: A concentrated alcohol answer produces a broad sign round 3200 – 3600 cm-1

Alcohol Nomenclature

To call an alcohol utilizing IUPAC nomenclature, observe these steps:

  • First, determine the mum or dad, which is the longest chain that comprises the OH group. 
  • Subsequent, assign a quantity to the OH group and different substituents (if there are any) to point their place throughout the molecule. The OH group ought to get the smallest quantity doable. 
  • Lastly, change the suffix “-e” of the mum or dad alkane into “-ol”. 

If a molecule has a number of OH teams, insert prefixes like “di” or “tri” earlier than “-ol”. In such circumstances, preserve the “-e” of the mum or dad alkane.


If the alcohol half (extra particularly, the hydroxyl group) is only a substituent of a molecule (i.e., there exist greater precedence practical teams), then we put the prefix “hydroxy-” in entrance of the mum or dad title of that molecule. 

6-hydroxy-3-methyloctanoic acid
6-hydroxy-3-methyloctanoic acid

Alcohol Reactions

Normal Response Developments

The reactivity hotspot in alcohols is the OH group. You will note many reactions that contain eradicating the entire OH group or simply the H. The excessive electronegativity of oxygen makes the C and H bonded to it electrophilic and thus reactive to electron-rich molecules.

However earlier than leaping into the reactions of alcohol, let’s see how one can synthesize alcohol first.

Preparation of Alcohols

Substitution Reactions

We are able to produce alcohols utilizing both an SN1 or SN2 substitution response. An SN1 response usually yields a tertiary alcohol, whereas an SN2 response usually yields a main alcohol.

alcohol synthesis via sn1 reaction
alcohol synthesis via sn2 reaction

Addition Reactions

Alkenes can endure hydration to provide alcohols. You’ll be able to learn extra about these hydration reactions in our article on alkenes.

acid-catalyzed hydration of alkene

Discount Reactions

We are able to scale back aldehydes or ketones into alcohols with a lowering agent like sodium borohydride (NaBH4) or lithium aluminum hydride (LAH). Furthermore, the reactivity of LAH additionally permits it to cut back carboxylic acids and esters into alcohols. These lowering brokers act as proton sources, giving their protons to the reactant.

reduction of ketone into alcohol
reduction of carboxylic acid into alcohol

Grignard Reagents

Grignard reagents are alkyl halides which are handled with magnesium. A Grignard reagent has a nucleophilic carbon that may carry out assaults on numerous electrophiles and thus is beneficial in constructing carbon skeletons. In our case, aldehydes, ketones, and esters can all be attacked by the Grignard reagent and endure subsequent protonation to provide alcohols.

synthesis of alcohol using grignard reagents

Reactions of Alcohols

Substitution Reactions

Alcohols can endure substitution reactions to type alkyl halides. Tertiary alcohols solely endure SN1 reactions; secondary alcohols can endure SN1 reactions however with a gradual price and thus usually desire to endure SN2 reactions; main alcohols solely endure SN2 reactions. 

It’s essential to notice that since OH is a nasty leaving group, the conversion of OH into a greater leaving group is a required step within the mechanism of each alcohol substitution response.

alcohol sn1 reaction

Elimination/Dehydration Reactions

Secondary and tertiary alcohols can endure an E1 response to type alkenes below acidic circumstances. Since this response additionally removes a water molecule, chemists additionally name it a “dehydration response”. Main alcohols may also endure a dehydration response by way of an E2 mechanism, however with a a lot slower price than secondary and tertiary alcohols.

alcohol dehydration reaction

Oxidation Reactions

Main alcohols can endure oxidation to provide aldehydes or carboxylic acids. You’ll be able to management the product by fastidiously selecting the oxidizing agent. A powerful oxidizer like chromic acid (H2CrO4) will oxidize the first alcohol straight right into a carboxylic acid, whereas a milder and extra selective oxidizer like pyridinium chlorochromate (abbreviated as PCC) will solely oxidize the first alcohol into an aldehyde.

Secondary alcohols will solely produce ketones upon oxidization, and tertiary alcohols won’t endure oxidation in any respect. (To know why, recall that the elimination of a hydrogen atom is one of the best ways to extend a molecule’s oxidation state. Sadly, in tertiary alcohols, the carbon with the OH group isn’t hooked up to any detachable hydrogen atom.)

primary alcohol oxidation reaction
secondary alcohol oxidation reaction


Alcohols can react with carboxylic acids within the presence of a catalytic acid and warmth to provide esters. Chemists name this response the Fischer esterification. You’ll be able to study extra about it on this article: Ester Practical Group and Esterification.

Alcohols may also produce esters when reacting with acid chlorides (additionally known as acyl chlorides) within the presence of neutralizing pyridine.

fischer esterification
esterification with alcohol and acid chloride

Examples of Alcohols

  • Methanol (or methyl alcohol or wooden alcohol) (CH3OH) is mostly used to make fuels for automobiles and ships.
  • Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) (C2H5OH) is the alcohol present in alcoholic drinks. Several types of drinks have totally different ethanol concentrations. For instance, whiskey has a better focus of ethanol than champagne, and champagne has a better focus of ethanol than commonplace beer.
  • 2-propanol (or isopropyl alcohol) ((CH3)2CHOH) is utilized in cleansing and disinfecting merchandise like detergents and hand sanitizers.
  • Ethane-1,2-diol (or ethylene glycol) ((CH2OH)2) is the chief ingredient of antifreeze.
  • Geosmin (C12H22O) is a bicyclic alcohol that offers the rain its distinct earthy scent.
  • Menthol (C10H20O) is answerable for the minty, refreshing sensation that merchandise like toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum give. 
  • Ldl cholesterol (C27H46O) is a kind of lipid that helps the physique make cell membranes, a number of hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D.
examples of alcohol

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