In organic chemistry
, an alkyl substituent
is an alkane
missing one hydrogen
The term alkyl is intentionally unspecific to include many possible substitutions.
An acyclic alkyl has the general formula Cn
+1. A cycloalkyl
is derived from a cycloalkane
by removal of a hydrogen atom from a ring and has the general formula Cn
Typically an alkyl is a part of a larger molecule. In structural formula
, the symbol R is used to designate a generic (unspecified) alkyl group. The smallest alkyl group is methyl
, with the formula CH3−.
Virtual Textbook of Organic Chemistry Naming Organic Compounds
In everyday life
The word root alkyl
is encountered in several contexts. Alkylation
is an important operation in refineries, for example in the production of high-octane gasoline. Alkylating antineoplastic agent
s refer to a class of compounds that are used to treat cancer. In such case, the term alkyl is used loosely. For example, nitrogen mustard
s are well-known alkylating agents, but they are more complex than a mere hydrocarbon. In chemistry, alkyl refers to a group, a substituent, that is attached to other molecular fragments. For example, alkyl lithium reagent
s have the empirical formula Li(alkyl), where alkyl = methyl, ethyl, etc. A dialkyl
ether is an ether
with two alkyl groups, e.g., diethyl ether (O(C2H5)2). Alkyl also refers to an active ingredient in green algae
preventatives used in swimming pools.
In medicinal chemistry
In medicinal chemistry
, the incorporation of alkyl chains into some chemical compounds
increases their lipophilicity
. This strategy has been used to increase the antimicrobial activity of flavanone
s and chalcone
Alkyl cations, anions, and radicals
Usually, alkyl groups are attached to other atoms or groups of atoms. Free alkyls occur as neutral compounds, as anions, or as cations. The cations are called carbocation
s. The anions are called carbanion
s. The neutral alkyl free radical
s have no special name. Such species are usually encountered only as transient intermediates, but some are quite stable and can be "put into a bottle". Typically alkyl cations are generated using super acid
s, alkyl anions are observed in the presence of strong bases, and alkyl radicals are generated by a photochemical reaction
. Alkyls are commonly observed in mass spectrometry
of organic compound
Alkyls form homologous series
. The simplest series have the general formula Cn
+1. Alkyls include methyl
(named after methane
), and so on. Alkyl groups that contain one ring have the formula Cn
−1, e.g. cyclopropyl and cyclohexyl.
The naming convention is taken from IUPAC nomenclature
These names are used to name branched chained structures, for example 3-methylpentane
The structure of 3-methylpentane
is viewed as consisting of two parts. First, five atoms comprise the longest straight chain of carbon
centers. The parent five-carbon compound is named pentane
(highlighted blue). The methyl "substituent" or "group" is highlighted red. According to the usual rules of nomenclature, alkyl groups are included in the name of the molecule before the root, as in methylpentane
. This name is, however, ambiguous, as the methyl branch could be on various carbon atoms. Thus, the name is 3-methylpentane to avoid ambiguity: The 3- is because the methyl is attached to the third of the five carbon atoms.
If there is more than one of the same alkyl group attached to a chain, then the prefixes are used on the alkyl groups to indicate multiples (i.e., di, tri, tetra, etc.)
This compound is known as 2,3,3-trimethylpentane
. Here three identical alkyl groups attached to carbon atoms 2, 3, and 3. These numbers are included in the name to avoid ambiguity on the position of the groups, and "tri" indicates that there are three identical methyl groups. If one of the methyl groups attached to the third carbon atom were an ethyl group, then the name would become 3-ethyl-2,3-dimethylpentane. Note that when there are different alkyl groups, they are listed in alphabetical order.
In addition, each position on an alkyl chain can be described according to how many other carbon atoms are attached to it. The terms primary
, and quaternary
refer to a carbon attached to one, two, three, or four other carbons respectively.
The first named alkyl radical was ethyl, named so by Liebig
in 1833 from the German word "aether" (i.e., the substance now known as diethyl ether) and the Greek word ύλη ( hyle
), meaning "matter". This was followed by methyl ( Dumas
in 1834, meaning "spirit of wood") and amyl ( Auguste Cahours
in 1840). The word alkyl was introduced by Johannes Wislicenus
in or before 1882, based on the German word "Alkoholradicale" and then-common suffix -yl.