Cyclic Hydrocarbons: Definition & Example

Instructor: Danielle Reid

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

From the molecules in our body to the food we eat, cyclic hydrocarbon compounds can be used for a wide variety of purposes. Continue reading to learn more about this family of organic compounds, its structure, and a look at a few examples.

What is a Cyclic Hydrocarbon?

Have you ever grabbed a piece of meat at a barbecue that was left on the grill a bit too long? Chemically, the charred portion on grilled meat contains cyclic compounds. That is, if you looked at the chemical produced from cooking your meat beyond well-done, you would see that its chemical structure contains cyclic hydrocarbons.

Overcooked Sausage
charred meat

Cyclic hydrocarbons are formed when atoms combine to form a ring. If you break down the term hydrocarbon, 'hydro-' represents the word hydrogen. The term '-carbon' represents, well, carbon. The presence of carbon in the structure of a cyclic hydrocarbon provides a great reminder that these compounds are organic. By definition, an organic compound will contain at least one carbon atom in its structure.

Understanding Its Structure

You may encounter the term ring when reading or stumbling across a cyclic hydrocarbon structure. Their cyclic appearance resembles that of a ring. This ring does not have to be circular. That's the beauty of cyclic hydrocarbons; they can form a variety of different shapes depending on how many carbon atoms are bonded together.

For example, cyclopropane forms a triangle. This is because only three carbon atoms are used to form the ring.

Structure of Cyclopropane

On the other hand, cyclohexane forms a hexagon as six carbon atoms bond together.

Chemical Structure of Cyclohexane

Did you notice any similarities in the cyclohexane and cyclopropane structures? Let's list a few of them:

  1. They both contain carbon and hydrogen atoms.
  2. Both of their structures resemble a ring.
  3. They both use covalent bonding to join each single bond together.

Did you catch that last note about covalent bonding? That's right, covalent bonds are used to form these cyclic structures. A covalent bond is formed when two atoms share electrons with one another.

The Different Types and Naming

Because there are many different types of hydrocarbons, the number of cyclic hydrocarbons out on the chemical market is quite extensive. Luckily, scientists use clever terminology to differentiate among the many types:

  1. Cycloalkane - This refers to cyclic hydrocarbons that only contain carbon atoms single bonded to other carbon atoms. Whenever you see a compound comprised of all single bonds it is said to be a saturated compound.
  2. Cycloalkene - Although less common, these cyclic hydrocarbons consists of at least one carbon atom double bonded to one another carbon atom.
  3. Cycloalkyne - This compound is also less common. Here, you will have at least one carbon atom triple bonded to another carbon atom within its structure.


When it comes to naming a cyclic hydrocarbon, determining the right name is a fairly easy process. First, you need to find the parent chain. The parent chain will have the longest amount of carbon atoms bonded to each other. But how can you find a chain in a ring structure? Well you need to consider a few things.

Determine the suffix:

Remember that these cyclic hydrocarbons can be alkanes, alkenes and alkynes. Depending on how many bonds are present in your structure your suffix of the chemical name can be:

  • -ane for single bond structures
  • -ene for double bond structures
  • -yne for triple bond structures

Determine the prefix:

Once you find the suffix you then need to find the prefix. This is determined by the number of carbon atoms present in the overall structure. As shown in the table of common prefixes for naming organic compounds, whenever you see a ring, start counting the carbon atoms that are bonded to each other. Use that number to determine the prefix. Let's take another look at our friend cyclopropane.

There are three carbon atoms single bonded in this structure. This tells you the chemical name will have a suffix ending of ''-ane''. Because there are three carbon atoms used, the prefix for this will be ''pro-''. Put it together and voila; you have prop-ane.

This leads us to the last thing which is adding the term ''cyclo'' to the entire name. This lets everyone know that the structure has a ring.

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