Alkanes | Organic Chemistry 1

Reactions of alkanes are studied in this chapter: IUPAC nomenclature, name and properties of alkanes, chemical equivalence, primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary structures in chemistry, radicals and their stability, radical chain reactions, halogenation of alkanes (mechanism, products and selectivity)

IUPAC Nomenclature

Prefix - Parent - Suffix

Prefix: identity, location, and number of substituents
Parent name: longest continuous chain of carbon atoms
Suffix: priority functional group present in the molecule


Parent name:

Number of C atoms:


Parent name:


Some other common substituents:


Substituents name:

Carbon substituents bonded to a carbon chain are called alkyl groups. To name them, the -ane ending of the corresponding alkane is replace by -yl

CH- = methyl
CH3CH- = ethyl

Nomenclature of Alkanes

How to name an alkane:

  1. Identify the parent chain:
    - choose the longest continuous chain of carbon atoms
    - in case of 2 chains of equal length, choose the chain with more substituents

  2. Identify and name the substituents as alkyl groups

  3. Number the atoms in the parent chain:
    - number the parent chain to give the first substituent the lower number
    - if the first substituent is the same distance from both ends, number the chain to give the second substituent the lower number
    - if the numbering of the parent chain gives the same numbers from each end of the chain after taking into account all the substituents, assign the lower number to the first substituent in alphabetical order

  4. Write the name of the alkane as a single word:
    - use hyphens to separate different prefixes and commas to separate numbers
    - arrange the substituents in alphabetical order (di, tri, tetra are not counted)


1. Longest chain: 7 carbon atoms ⇒ heptane
2. 2 methyl substituents + 1 ethyl substituent
3. The right end is closest to a substituent: number the C atoms from right to left
4. 4-ethyl-3,3-dimethylheptane

Properties of Alkanes


Organic compounds having only C-C and C-H single bonds. Acyclic alkanes have the molecular formula CnH2n+2. They are also called saturated hydrocarbons because they have the maximum number of hydrogens per carbon

General properties:

  • Alkanes have low boiling and melting point compared to more polar compounds of comparable size. Their boiling and melting point increase as the number of carbons increases (increased surface area)
  • Geometry: alkanes are composed of sp3 hybridized carbon atoms ⇒ tetrahedral geometry
  • Reactivity: alkanes have nonpolar C-C and C-H bonds and no functional group ⇒ alkanes are not very reactive

Chemical Equivalence

Chemically equivalent atoms:

2 atoms are chemically equivalent when they have an identical environment. This notion of equivalence is very important in spectroscopy (NMR) and in reactions (e.g. radical halogenation of alkanes)

The 6 hydrogen atoms in ethane are chemically equivalent because they are all bonded to a carbon atom bonded to 2 other hydrogens and to a methyl group ⇒ they have the same environment

Ethane: all H are equivalent

1,1,4,4-tetramethylcyclohexane: 2 groups of equivalent H

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Quaternary in Chemistry

For carbon atoms:

Carbon atoms are classified by the number of other carbons directly bonded to them

  • Primary carbon: a carbon attached to only ONE other carbon atom
  • Secondary carbon: a carbon attached to TWO other carbon atoms
  • Tertiary carbon: a carbon attached to THREE other carbon atoms
  • Quaternary carbon: a carbon attached to FOUR other carbon atoms


For hydrogen atoms, chemical functions or radicals:

Hydrogen atoms, chemical functions or radicals are classified according to the type of carbon atom to which they are bonded

  • Primary: hydrogen / chemical function / radical on a primary carbon
  • Secondary: hydrogen / chemical function / radical on a secondary carbon
  • Tertiary: hydrogen / chemical function / radical on a tertiary carbon



A reactive intermediate with a single unpaired electron, formed by homolytic cleavage of a covalent bond. The stability of the radicals increases along the series from primary to secondary to tertiary (hyperconjugation); therefore, the energy required to create them decreases in this order

Radical initiator:

A compound that contains an especially weak bond that serves as a source of radicals. Common examples of radical initiator are halogens (Cl2, Br2), azo compounds (R-N=N-R') and organic peroxides (R-O-O-R')

Halogenation of Alkanes

Mechanism: radical chain reactions

  1. Initiation: homolytic cleavage of the Cl-Cl bond

  2. Propagation:

    Abstraction of an hydrogen atom by Cl radical:

    Abstraction of a chlorine atom by alkyl radical:


  3. Chain termination: radical-radical combination


How to determine the products of a monohalogenation reaction:

  1. Identify all equivalent hydrogen groups in the starting alkane

  2. Replace one hydrogen atom of an equivalent hydrogen group with a halogen atom
    The total number of products is equal to the number of equivalent hydrogen groups (if we do not take into account the stereoisomers)


Possible products of the monochlorination of propane:


Tertiary radicals are more stable and form faster than secondary and primary radicals. Therefore, their relative ratios are greater than the statistical ratios. On the contrary, the relative ratios of primary radicals are lower than the statistics