AskDefine | Define alkyl

Dictionary Definition

alkyl n : any of a series of univalent groups of the general formula CnH2n+1 derived from aliphatic hydrocarbons [syn: alkyl group, alkyl radical]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Any of a series of univalent radicals of the general formula CnH2n+1 derived from aliphatic hydrocarbons.


univalent radical of the general formula CnH2n+1
  • Italian: alchile

Extensive Definition

An alkyl is a univalent radical consisting of carbon and hydrogen atoms, arranged in a chain. The alkyls form a homologous series with the general formula CnH2n+1. They include methyl, CH3· (named after methane), ethyl (C2H5·), propyl (C3H7·), butyl (C4H9·), pentyl (C5H11·), and so on. They are usually constituents of larger molecules, but when occurring independently, they are known as "free radicals" and are very reactive.
The structure of an alkyl is like that of its alkane counterpart, but with one less hydrogen atom. For example, this is the structure of methyl, the smallest alkyl:
A secondary alkyl group is branched with the central carbon atom linked to two carbon residues. Likewise, in tertiary alkyl groups, there are three carbon-linked substituents. In neopentane, the central carbon atom is quaternary.


Unbonded alkyls are free radicals, therefore they are formed only as instantaneous intermediates in reactions usually involving other free radicals. When a free radical is formed it very quickly reacts with something else to lose the unpaired electron.
An example of a reaction where alkyls are formed instantly is chlorination. This reaction involves chlorine free radicals, formed by photodissociation, reacting with an organic molecule, usually an alkane. The chlorine free radical will bond with a hydrogen from an alkane forming hydrochloric acid and leaving an alkyl. This alkyl will then bond to a chlorine to form the product; a chloroalkane. The reaction is very energetic and can be explosive if proper precautions are not taken. This is because of the reactivity of free radicals.
Alkyls are very commonly observed in mass spectroscopy of organic compounds.

Naming Alkyls

The naming convention for alkyls is much the same as alkanes. The suffix is always -yl. The prefix depends on how many carbon atoms are in the molecule. This uses the same system as for alkanes as shown in this table (taken from IUPAC nomenclature):

Branched chained structures

These names are used to name branched chained structures, for example 3-methylpentane:
The structure of 3-methylpentane consist of two parts. Firstly, the longest straight chain of carbon atoms, 5 carbons long with all single bonds, which is named pentane (highlighted blue). Secondly, there is an alkyl group, which is one carbon long, which is methyl (highlighted red). 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 5 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 there are 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 attached to the third carbon atom was 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.
alkyl in Arabic: ألكيل
alkyl in Catalan: Grup alquil
alkyl in Czech: Alkyl
alkyl in German: Alkylgruppe
alkyl in Spanish: Grupo alquilo
alkyl in Estonian: Alküülrühm
alkyl in Persian: گروه آلکیل
alkyl in Finnish: Alkyyli
alkyl in French: Alkyle
alkyl in Hebrew: אלקיל
alkyl in Indonesian: Alkil
alkyl in Italian: Alchile
alkyl in Korean: 알킬기
alkyl in Macedonian: Алкил
alkyl in Dutch: Alkylgroep
alkyl in Polish: Grupa alkilowa
alkyl in Portuguese: Alquila
alkyl in Russian: Алкилы
alkyl in Swedish: Alkylgrupp
alkyl in Turkish: Alkil
alkyl in Vietnamese: Ankyl
alkyl in Chinese: 烷基
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