Alcohols & Alkanols: Classification & Functional Group

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  • 0:00 Alcohol and Alkanol…
  • 2:15 Classifying Alcohols…
  • 3:23 The Importance of…
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

At first glance, the term alcohol and alkanol sound quite similar. In fact, there are similarities between both compounds. Explore this lesson to learn about alcohols and alkanols, how they are classified, and what their functional groups are.

Alcohol and Alkanol Introduction

Alcohols and alkanols: both words sound the same and the spellings are pretty similar. But are there any differences between these two compounds? Well depending on who you ask, this question may result in myriad answers. You may hear there is no difference. On the other hand, you may also hear there is a distinct difference based on molecular structure. For our purposes, we won't define alcohols and alkanols on the basis of their differences, but rather we'll classify alkanols as a type of alcohol.

alkanol and alcohol example

An example of an alcohol and an alkanol is shown here. As you can see, alcohols have a hydroxyl (OH) group attached to at least one carbon atom in a given compound. Alkanols consist of an alkane that contains a hydroxyl (OH) group. The molecular formula of alkanol is CnHn + 1OH and ROH for alcohol.

Now wait a minute, you may be thinking that the molecular formula for alcohol and alkanol look quite similar. Recall that an alkanol is a type of alcohol. Thus, their molecular formulas will be similar. However, the letter 'R' (in alcohol) represents any molecule that can be attached to the hydroxyl group (OH). In other words, 'R' can be thought of as a placeholder for any molecule that decides to chemically bond to a hydroxyl group.

The R group for alkanol is very specific. This R group must be an alkane molecule. Alkanes are compounds that consist of carbon and hydrogen atoms single bonded to each other. Examples of alkanes are shown here.


Keep in mind that the R group for an alcohol is not specific. This R group can range from an aromatic compound (i.e., a phenyl group) to a halogen (i.e., chlorine and bromine). Does this mean an alcohol can be an alkanol? It most definitely can! Recall we defined an alkanol as a type of alcohol; thus, there is no doubt that alcohols can have alkane compounds as their R group and be called an alkanol.

Classifying Alcohols and Alkanols

In science, organic compounds can be classified according to the arrangement of atoms in each compound. Alcohols are classified as primary, S\secondary, or tertiary. Because an alkanol is a type of alcohol, we can easily classify these compounds applying the same principles we learn from alcohol classification. Let's start with alcohols first and then tackle alkanols.

An example of each classified alcohol group is provided here.


As you can see, a primary alcohol will only have one R group attached to the carbon-hydroxyl group. Secondary alcohols will have two R groups attached to the carbon-hydroxyl group. Lastly, tertiary alcohols will have three R groups attached to the carbon-hydroxyl group.

Alkanols have the exact same classification system. The only difference is the specificity of the R groups. Remember, alkanols must contain alkane molecules as their R group. Thus, if we take each classification and swap out the R group for an alkane molecule you will have your primary, secondary, and tertiary alkanols.

The Importance of Hydroxyl Groups

There are specific groups of atoms in organic chemistry that contribute to the chemical characteristic of an organic compound. These specific groups of atoms are called functional groups. Think of functional groups as the fingerprint for organic compounds, providing you a landmark for learning more about a particular compound under study.

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