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Alkyl Group: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:02 What Is an Alkyl Group?
  • 1:32 Naming an Alkyl Group
  • 2:56 What Does an Alkyl…
  • 3:56 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

Explore this lesson to learn about a fascinating organic functional group called the alkyl group. Discover what alkyl groups are and how to identify one in an organic chemical structure.

What Is an Alkyl Group?

What do the words alkylation, alkylate, and alkyl halide all have in common? Each contain the root word, 'alkyl.' From refining petroleum using the alkylation mechanism to binding with a halide group, alkyl molecules are widely found throughout organic chemistry.

The alkyl group is a type of functional group that has a carbon and hydrogen atom present in its structure. The general formula for an alkyl group is CnH2n+1, where n represents a number or integer. Wait a minute; you may be wondering what a functional group is? That's a great question! A functional group is a group of atoms that are easily identified in a given compound. Let's say you're looking at the compound p-tert-butyl-cyclohexanol, shown here.

Example of the Compound P-Tert_Butyl-Cyclohexanol
example

The group of carbon and hydrogen atoms, termed butyl, represent the alkyl functional group for this compound. It's worth noting that the alkyl group has a relative called alkane. Alkane is a functional group that has the general formula of CnH2n+2. As a cousin to the alkyl group, alkanes are different in that they're missing one hydrogen atom from their chain. Here, you'll see the difference between both functional groups.

Example of an Alkane and Alkyl Molecule
alkyl

Although you should be careful not to confuse these relatives, it is helpful to know that alkanes can be used to not only create the name of alkyl group molecules but also determine their structure.

Naming an Alkyl Group

In organic chemistry, there's a distinct set of rules you must follow when naming compounds. The nomenclature, or rulebook, used for naming molecules is called IUPAC, or the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. If we start with alkane nomenclature you will see how easy it is to name alkyl molecules. Just remember that alkane and alkyl are two different functional groups based on the removal of one hydrogen atom.

With all functional groups, the first process in naming involves determination of the prefix. This is based on how many carbon atoms are present in the longest chain of a compound. Also, prefix is based on carbon count. Once you determine your prefix name, next up is the suffix ending. In the case of alkane functional groups, the suffix ending would be, '-ane.' However, we are interested in the alkyl group. If an alkyl group is present, you simply change the alkane ending of '-ane' to '-yl.' Let's look at this hexane molecule as an example.

Example of the Alkane Molecule Hexane
hexane

Can you identify what the prefix is? It's, 'hex-' because there are six carbon molecules present in the longest chain of this compound. What would the alkyl IUPAC name be? It would be hexyl. You can take the ending '-ane' and drop it, attaching the ending, '-yl' to form the word hexyl.

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