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The Basics of Organic Nomenclature: Naming Alkanes

The Basics of Organic Nomenclature: Naming Alkanes

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has devised a system of nomenclature that begins with the names of the alkanes and can be adjusted from there to account for more complicated structures. The nomenclature for alkanes is based on two rules:

  1. To name an alkane, first identify the longest chain of carbon atoms in its structure. A two-carbon chain is called ethane; a three-carbon chain, propane; and a four-carbon chain, butane. Longer chains are named as follows: pentane (five-carbon chain), hexane (6), heptane (7), octane (8), nonane (9), and decane (10). These prefixes can be seen in the names of the alkanes described in the table below.
  2. Add prefixes to the name of the longest chain to indicate the positions and names of substituents. Substituents are branches or functional groups that replace hydrogen atoms on a chain. The position of a substituent or branch is identified by the number of the carbon atom it is bonded to in the chain. We number the carbon atoms in the chain by counting from the end of the chain nearest the substituents. Multiple substituents are named individually and placed in alphabetical order at the front of the name.

This figure shows structural formulas for propane, 2 dash chloropropane, 2 dash methylpropane, 2 comma 4 dash difluorohexane, and 1 dash bromo dash 3 dash chlorohexane. In each of the structures, the carbon atoms are in a row with bonded halogen atoms and a methyl group bonded below the figures. Propane is listed as simply C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3, with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 appearing above the carbon atoms from left to right. 2 dash chloropropane similarly shows C H subscript 3 C H C H subscript 3, with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 appearing above the carbon atoms from left to right. A C l atom is bonded below carbon 2. The C l atom is red. 2 dash methylpropane similarly shows C H subscript 3 C H C H subscript 3, with the numbers 3, 2, and 1 appearing above the carbon atoms from left to right. A C H subscript 3 group is bonded beneath carbon 2 and is red. 2 comma 4 dash difluorohexane similarly shows C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H C H subscript 2 C H C H subscript 3, with the numbers 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 appearing above the carbon atoms from left to right. F atoms are bonded to carbons 4 and 2 at the bottom of the structure and are red. 1 dash bromo dash 3 dash chlorohexane similarly shows C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3, with numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 appearing above the carbon atoms from left to right. B r is bonded below carbon 1 and C l is bonded below carbon 3. Both B r and C l are red.

When more than one substituent is present, either on the same carbon atom or on different carbon atoms, the substituents are listed alphabetically. Because the carbon atom numbering begins at the end closest to a substituent, the longest chain of carbon atoms is numbered in such a way as to produce the lowest number for the substituents.

The ending -o replaces -ide at the end of the name of an electronegative substituent (in ionic compounds, the negatively charged ion ends with -ide like chloride; in organic compounds, such atoms are treated as substituents and the -o ending is used). The number of substituents of the same type is indicated by the prefixes di- (two), tri- (three), tetra- (four), and so on (for example, difluoro- indicates two fluoride substituents).

Example

Naming Halogen-substituted Alkanes

Name the molecule whose structure is shown here:

This structure shows a C atom bonded to the H atoms and another C atom. This second C atom is bonded to two H atoms and another C atom. This third C atom is bonded to a B r atom and another C atom. This fourth C atom is bonded to two H atoms and a C l atom.

Solution

This structure shows a C atom bonded to the H atoms and another C atom. This second C atom is bonded to two H atoms and another C atom. This third C atom is bonded to an H atom, a B r atom, and another C atom. This fourth C atom is bonded to two H atoms and a C l atom. The C atoms are numbered 4, 3, 2, and 1 from left to right.

The four-carbon chain is numbered from the end with the chlorine atom. This puts the substituents on positions 1 and 2 (numbering from the other end would put the substituents on positions 3 and 4). Four carbon atoms means that the base name of this compound will be butane. The bromine at position 2 will be described by adding 2-bromo-; this will come at the beginning of the name, since bromo- comes before chloro- alphabetically. The chlorine at position 1 will be described by adding 1-chloro-, resulting in the name of the molecule being 2-bromo-1-chlorobutane.

We call a substituent that contains one less hydrogen than the corresponding alkane an alkyl group. The name of an alkyl group is obtained by dropping the suffix -ane of the alkane name and adding -yl:

In this figure, methane is named and represented as C with four H atoms bonded above, below, to the left, and to the right of the C. The methyl group is shown, which appears like methane without the right most H. A dash remains at the location where the H was formerly bonded. Ethane is named and represented with two centrally bonded C atoms to which six H atoms are bonded; two above and below each of the two C atoms and to the left and right ends of the linked C atoms. The ethyl group appears as a similar structure with the right-most H atom removed. A dash remains at the location where the H atom was formerly bonded.

The open bonds in the methyl and ethyl groups indicate that these alkyl groups are bonded to another atom.

Example

Naming Substituted Alkanes

Name the molecule whose structure is shown here:

A chain of six carbon atoms, numbered 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 is shown. Bonded above carbon 3, a chain of two carbons is shown, numbered 1 and 2 moving upward. H atoms are present directly above, below, left and right of all carbon atoms in positions not already taken up in bonding to other carbon atoms.

Solution

The longest carbon chain runs horizontally across the page and contains six carbon atoms (this makes the base of the name hexane, but we will also need to incorporate the name of the branch). In this case, we want to number from right to left (as shown by the blue numbers) so the branch is connected to carbon 3 (imagine the numbers from left to right—this would put the branch on carbon 4, violating our rules). The branch attached to position 3 of our chain contains two carbon atoms (numbered in red)—so we take our name for two carbons eth- and attach -yl at the end to signify we are describing a branch. Putting all the pieces together, this molecule is 3-ethylhexane.

Some hydrocarbons can form more than one type of alkyl group when the hydrogen atoms that would be removed have different “environments” in the molecule. This diversity of possible alkyl groups can be identified in the following way: The four hydrogen atoms in a methane molecule are equivalent; they all have the same environment. They are equivalent because each is bonded to a carbon atom (the same carbon atom) that is bonded to three hydrogen atoms. (It may be easier to see the equivalency in the ball and stick models in the figure below from the previous lesson.

 

The figure illustrates four ways to represent molecules for molecules of methane, ethane, and pentane. In the first row of the figure, Lewis structural formulas show element symbols and bonds between atoms. Methane has a central C atom with four H atoms bonded to it. Ethane has a C atom with three H atoms bonded to it. The C atom is also bonded to another C atom with three H atoms bonded to it. Pentane has a C atom with three H atoms bonded to it. The C atom is bonded to another C atom with two H atoms bonded to it. The C atom is bonded to another C atom with two H atoms bonded to it. The C atom is bonded to another C atom with two H atoms bonded to it. The C atom is bonded to another C atom with three H atoms bonded to it. In the second row, ball-and-stick models are shown. In these representations, bonds are represented with sticks, and elements are represented with balls. Carbon atoms are black and hydrogen atoms are white in this image. In the third row, space-filling models are shown. In these models, atoms are enlarged and pushed together, without sticks to represent bonds. The molecule names and structural formulas are provided in the fourth row. Methane is named and represented with a condensed structural formula as C H subscript 4. Ethane is named and represented with two structural formulas C H subscript 3 C H subscript 3 and C subscript 2 H subscript 6. Pentane is named and represented as both C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3 and C subscript 5 H subscript 12.

Pictured are the Lewis structures, ball-and-stick models, and space-filling models for molecules of methane, ethane, and pentane.

Removal of any one of the four hydrogen atoms from methane forms a methyl group. Likewise, the six hydrogen atoms in ethane are equivalent (see the figure above) and removing any one of these hydrogen atoms produces an ethyl group. Each of the six hydrogen atoms is bonded to a carbon atom that is bonded to two other hydrogen atoms and a carbon atom. However, in both propane and 2–methylpropane, there are hydrogen atoms in two different environments, distinguished by the adjacent atoms or groups of atoms:

In this figure, propane is shown as a chain of three bonded C atoms. Eight H atoms are shown with three bonded to the first C atom, two to the middle C atom, and three to the third C atom. The H atoms bonded to the middle C atom are purple. 2 dash methylpropane is also shown, which similarly has a chain of three bonded C atoms. In this structure, A C atom is bonded beneath the middle C atom of the chain. Ten H atoms are shown with three bonded to the first C atom, one to the middle C atom, three to the third C atom, and three to the C atom also bonded to the middle C atom. The H atom bonded to the middle C atom is green.

Each of the six equivalent hydrogen atoms of the first type in propane and each of the nine equivalent hydrogen atoms of that type in 2-methylpropane (all shown in black) are bonded to a carbon atom that is bonded to only one other carbon atom. The two purple hydrogen atoms in propane are of a second type. They differ from the six hydrogen atoms of the first type in that they are bonded to a carbon atom bonded to two other carbon atoms.

The green hydrogen atom in 2-methylpropane differs from the other nine hydrogen atoms in that molecule and from the purple hydrogen atoms in propane. The green hydrogen atom in 2-methylpropane is bonded to a carbon atom bonded to three other carbon atoms. Two different alkyl groups can be formed from each of these molecules, depending on which hydrogen atom is removed. The names and structures of these and several other alkyl groups are listed in the figure below.

This table provides a listing of alkyl groups and corresponding structures. Methyl is shown as C H subscript 3 followed by a dash. Ethyl is shown as C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 followed by a dash. n dash propyl is shown as C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 followed by a dash. Isopropyl is shown as C H subscript 3 C H C H subscript 3 with a dash extending upward from the middle C. n dash butyl is shown as C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 followed by a dash. sec dash butyl is shown as C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H C H subscript 3 with a dash extending upward from the third C counting left to right. Isobutyl is shown as C H subscript 3 C H C H subscript 2 with a dash extending to the right. There is a C H subscript 3 bonded to the middle C. tert dash butyl is shown as C H subscript 3 C C H subscript 3 with a C H subscript 3 group bonded below the middle C and a dash extending upward from the central C.

This listing gives the names and formulas for various alkyl groups formed by the removal of hydrogen atoms from different locations.

Note that alkyl groups do not exist as stable independent entities. They are always a part of some larger molecule. The location of an alkyl group on a hydrocarbon chain is indicated in the same way as any other substituent:

This figure shows structures of 3 dash ethylheptane, 2 comma 2 comma 4 dash trimethylpentane, and 4 dash isopropylheptane. The 3 dash ethylheptane structure shows C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3. Under the C atom labeled 3, is a bond to C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3 which appears in red. The C atoms are labeled 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 from left to right. The 2 comma 2 comma 4 dash trimethylpentane structure shows C H subscript 3 C bonded to C H subscript 2 C H C H subscript 3. The C atoms are labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 from left to right. The C atom labeled 2 has a C H subscript 3 bonded above it and below it. The C H subscript 3 groups both appear in red. The C atom labeled 4 has a bond above it to C H subscript 3. The C H subscript 3 group appears in red. The 4 dash isopropylheptane structure shows C H subscript 3 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H C H subscript 2 C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3. From the fourth C counting from left to right, there is a C H group bonded above. Bonded up and to the right and and up to the left of this C H group are C H subscript 3 groups.

Alkanes are relatively stable molecules, but heat or light will activate reactions that involve the breaking of C–H or C–C single bonds. Combustion is one such reaction:

\({\text{CH}}_{4}(g)+2{\text{O}}_{2}(g)\;⟶\;{\text{CO}}_{2}(g)+2{\text{H}}_{2}\text{O}(\text{g})\)\({\text{CH}}_{4}(g)+2{\text{O}}_{2}(g)\;⟶\;{\text{CO}}_{2}(g)+2{\text{H}}_{2}\text{O}(\text{g})\)

Alkanes burn in the presence of oxygen, a highly exothermic oxidation-reduction reaction that produces carbon dioxide and water. As a consequence, alkanes are excellent fuels. For example, methane, CH4, is the principal component of natural gas. Butane, C4H10, used in camping stoves and lighters is an alkane. Gasoline is a liquid mixture of continuous- and branched-chain alkanes, each containing from five to nine carbon atoms, plus various additives to improve its performance as a fuel. Kerosene, diesel oil, and fuel oil are primarily mixtures of alkanes with higher molecular masses.

The main source of these liquid alkane fuels is crude oil, a complex mixture that is separated by fractional distillation. Fractional distillation takes advantage of differences in the boiling points of the components of the mixture (see the figure below). You may recall that boiling point is a function of intermolecular interactions, which was discussed in the tutorial on solutions and colloids.

This figure contains a photo of a refinery, showing large columnar structures. A diagram of a fractional distillation column is also shown. Near the bottom of the column, an arrow pointing into the column from the left shows a point of entry for heated crude oil. The column contains several layers at which different components are removed. At the very bottom, residue materials are removed through a pipe as indicated by an arrow out of the column. At each successive level, different materials are removed through pipes proceeding from the bottom to the top of the column. In order from bottom to top, these materials are fuel oil, followed by diesel oil, kerosene, naptha, gasoline, and refinery gas at the very top. To the right of the column diagram, a double sided arrow is shown that is blue at the top and gradually changes color to red moving downward. The blue top of the arrow is labeled, “Small molecules: low boiling point, very volatile, flows easily, ignites easily.” The red bottom of the arrow is labeled, “Large molecules: high boiling point, not very volatile, does not flow easily, does not ignite easily.”

In a column for the fractional distillation of crude oil, oil heated to about 425 °C in the furnace vaporizes when it enters the base of the tower. The vapors rise through bubble caps in a series of trays in the tower. As the vapors gradually cool, fractions of higher, then of lower, boiling points condense to liquids and are drawn off. (credit left: modification of work by Luigi Chiesa)

In a substitution reaction, another typical reaction of alkanes, one or more of the alkane’s hydrogen atoms is replaced with a different atom or group of atoms. No carbon-carbon bonds are broken in these reactions, and the hybridization of the carbon atoms does not change. For example, the reaction between ethane and molecular chlorine depicted here is a substitution reaction:

This diagram illustrates the reaction of ethane and C l subscript 2 to form chloroethane. In this reaction, the structural formula of ethane is shown with two C atoms bonded together and three H atoms bonded to each C atom. The H atom on the far right is red. Ethane is added to C l bonded to C l, followed by an arrow that points right. The arrow is labeled, “Heat or light.” To the right, the chloroethane molecule is shown with two C atoms bonded together. The left C atom has three H atoms bonded to it, but the right C atom has two H atoms bonded above and below it along with a C l atom. The C l atom appears in red with 3 pairs of electron dots at the right end of the molecule. This is followed by a plus sign, which in turn is followed in red by H bonded to C l. Three pairs of electron dots are present above, to the right, and below the C l.

The C–Cl portion of the chloroethane molecule is an example of a functional group, the part or moiety of a molecule that imparts a specific chemical reactivity. The types of functional groups present in an organic molecule are major determinants of its chemical properties and are used as a means of classifying organic compounds as detailed in the remaining sections of this tutorial.

Resource:

Want more practice naming alkanes? Watch this brief video tutorial to review the nomenclature process.

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