Carboxylic Acid Derivatives

Carboxylic acids are perfectly pleasant molecules. Their functional group is found in all amino acids and proteins, and they are used to make polymers, pharmaceuticals, food additives, and soaps. However, we can come across an issue - carboxylic acids are not very reactive. Imagine them as a meek and timid kitten, playfully batting you with its paw.

Carboxylic Acid Derivatives Carboxylic Acid Derivatives

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    But carboxylic acids have some closely-related friends known as carboxylic acid derivatives, like acyl chlorides and acid anhydrides. Acid derivatives are powerful and reactive - if carboxylic acids are kittens, then acid anhydrides are feral cats fighting in the streets, whilst acyl chlorides are tigers ferociously pouncing on their prey. In this article, we'll meet some acid derivatives and see how they compare to carboxylic acids.

    • This article is about carboxilic acid derivates.
    • We will start by seeing what carboxylic acid derivates are, as well as their properties.
    • We are going to analyse some examples and see how we can prepare them.
    • To finish, we will see some reactions of carboxilic acid derivates.

    What are carboxylic acid derivatives?

    Carboxylic acid derivatives (often simply known as acid derivatives) are molecules with the acyl functional group (RCO-) that are closely related to carboxylic acids. Their acyl group is bonded to another group known as a Z group.

    You might already know from articles such as Carboxylic Acids that carboxylic acids have the structure RCOOH, which includes the carboxyl functional group (-COOH). The carboxyl group in turn is made up of the carbonyl (C=O) and hydroxyl (-OH) functional groups.

    Acid derivatives are similar molecules. However, acid derivatives have the structure RCOZ. They still contain a carbonyl group (C=O) that is joined on one side to an organic R group; we call the RCO- combination the acyl group. But instead of the hydroxyl group (-OH) found in carboxylic acids, acid derivatives contain a Z group. The Z group is special because it always has an electronegative atom (such as oxygen, nitrogen, or sulphur) directly bonded to the acid derivative's C=O carbon atom.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives carboxylic acid vs acid derivative structure differences StudySmarter Fig. 1: From carboxylic acid to acid derivative. Can you spot the difference?StudySmarter Originals

    So many names for different combinations of atoms within one molecule! How many uniquely-named functional groups can you spot in carboxylic acids?

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives carboxylic acid structure functional groups StudySmarterFig. 2: Functional groups within carboxylic acids.StudySmarter Originals

    Properties of carboxylic acid derivatives

    The Z group found in carboxylic acid derivatives contributes to their overall properties. For example, acid derivatives are polar. The more electronegative atom in the Z group pulls the shared pair of electrons in the C-Z bond towards itself, becoming partially negatively charged and leaving the carbon atom partially positively charged. Likewise, the oxygen atom in the C=O carbonyl group is a lot more electronegative than carbon, further increasing the carbon atom's partial charge. This is shown below.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives polarity acid derivative StudySmarterFig. 3: The polarity of acid derivatives is caused by their electronegative oxygen atom and Z group.StudySmarter Originals

    The other physical properties of acid derivatives depend on their Z group and the length of their R alkyl chain. However, acid derivatives tend to be more soluble than some other organic molecules because their carbonyl (C=O) group can form hydrogen bonds with water.

    We'll look at examples of different Z groups and the names of their parent carboxylic acid derivative families next.

    Examples of carboxylic acid derivatives

    Let's now introduce you to examples of carboxylic acid derivatives. We'll look at the four main types of acid derivatives, including their structures, Z group, and some common examples. Don't worry about being overloaded with new information - you might have already come across some of these molecules before without realising it!

    Esters

    Esters are a type of carboxylic acid derivative. Their Z group is an oxygen atom bonded to another alkyl R group, giving esters the structure RCOOR'. We call the -COO- combination of atoms the ester linkage group.

    Examples of esters include methyl ethanoate (CH3COOCH3) and propyl methanoate (CHOOCH2CH2CH3).

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives ester general structure example StudySmarterFig. 4: The general structure of esters (above); examples of esters (below). Their Z group and ester linkage group are highlighted.StudySmarter Originals

    Amides

    Amides are another type of acid derivative. Their Z group is an amine group (-NH2), giving them the structure RCONH2. The combination of the C=O double bond and the amine group is known as the amide group.

    The common painkiller paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen but with the tongue-twisting IUPAC name of N-(2,3,5,6-tetradeuterio-4-hydroxyphenyl)acetamide) is a great example of an amide.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives amide general structure example StudySmarterFig. 5: The general structure of amides (above); an example of an amide (below). Their Z group and the amide group are highlighted.StudySmarter Originals

    Acid anhydrides

    You probably haven't seen an acid anhydride before. Their name literally means without water, and it gives you a clue as to their structure. Acid anhydrides are formed when two carboxylic acids join together in an elimination reaction that releases water. They have the general structure RCOOCOR'.

    You can think of acid chlorides as two acyl groups joined by an oxygen atom Z group. But for some reactions, such as in acylation reactions, it makes sense to group the entire -OCOR' chain as the Z group.

    To name an acid anhydride in accordance with IUPAC nomenclature:

    • Find the carboxylic acid(s) it is based on.
    • Add the suffix -anhydride.

    For example, the acid anhydride formed from two molecules of methanoic acid is known as methanoic anhydride, whilst the acid anhydride formed from one molecule of ethanoic acid and one molecule of propanoic acid is called ethanoic propanoic anhydride.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives acid anhydride general structure example StudySmarterFig. 6: The general structure of acid anhydrides (above); examples of acid anhydrides (below). Their Z group is highlighted.StudySmarter Originals

    Acyl chlorides

    Finally, let's look at acyl chlorides. They're a type of acyl halide - an acid derivative with a halogen atom Z group. It'll come as no surprise to you that in acyl chlorides, the halogen atom is a chlorine atom. Acyl chlorides have the general structure RCOCl.

    To name an acyl chloride in accordance with IUPAC nomenclature:

    • Count the number of carbon atoms in its parent carbon chain and give it the appropriate root name.
    • Add the suffix -oyl chloride.

    An example of an acyl chloride is ethanoyl chloride. It is commonly known as acetyl chloride and so you might see it referred to with the abbreviation AcCl.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives acyl chloride general structure example StudySmarterFig. 7: The general structure of acyl chlorides (above); an example of an acyl chloride (below). Their Z group is highlighted.StudySmarter Originals

    Preparation of carboxylic acid derivatives

    Moving on - time to focus on the preparation of carboxylic acid derivatives. In particular, we'll look at how we make acyl chlorides, but we'll also consider the preparation of other acid derivatives.

    Preparation of acyl chlorides

    We synthesise acyl chlorides by reacting a carboxylic acid with either phosphorus(V) chloride (PCl5), phosphorus(III) chloride (PCl3), or sulphur dichloride oxide (SOCl2).

    • Reacting carboxylic acids (RCOOH) with phosphorus (V) chloride produces an acyl chloride (RCOCl), phosphoryl chloride (POCl3), and hydrogen chloride gas (HCl). This reaction takes place at room temperature.
    • Reacting carboxylic acids with phosphorus (III) chloride produces an acyl chloride and phosphorous acid (H2PO3). This reaction requires heat.
    • Reacting carboxylic acids with sulphur dichloride oxide produces an acyl chloride, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen chloride gas (HCl). This reaction takes place at room temperature.

    Here are the respective equations for the three reactions:

    $$RCOOH+PCl_5\rightarrow ROCl+POCl_3+HCl$$

    $$3RCOOH+PCl_3\rightarrow 3ROCl+H_3PO_3$$

    $$RCOOH+SOCl_2\rightarrow ROCl+SO_2+HCl$$

    Preparation of other acid derivatives

    Here are some of the ways of making other acid derivatives:

    • Amides can be formed by reacting an acyl chloride or acid anhydride with ammonia or a primary amine. This is a nucleophilic addition-elimination acylation reaction, and we look at it in more detail in the section below on the reactions of carboxylic acid derivatives.
    • Esters can be formed by reacting a carboxylic acid with an alcohol in an esterification reaction. They're also made by acylating alcohols using an acyl chloride or acid anhydride (which, once again, is another example of an electrophilic addition-elimination reaction).
    • Acid anhydrides can theoretically be made in a dehydration reaction between two carboxylic acids. However, there are much more efficient (if slightly roundabout) ways of producing them!

    Reactions of carboxylic acid derivatives

    Remember how at the start of the article, we mentioned that carboxylic acids aren't that reactive? For example, they require both an acid catalyst and heating in order to react with alcohols. However, particular types of acid derivatives are much more reactive. For example, acyl chlorides react vigorously with alcohols at room temperature!

    We'll now turn our attention to the reactions of acid derivatives. But before that, we'll first find out about their relative reactivity.

    Reactivity of acid derivatives

    Not all acid derivatives are as reactive as each other. In fact, some of them are less reactive than carboxylic acids themselves! Here's a diagram showing the relative reactivity of carboxylic acids and their four main acid derivatives. You can see that acyl chlorides are the most reactive whilst amides are the least.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives acid anhydride general structure example StudySmarterFig. 8: The relative reactivity of acid derivatives. Acyl chlorides are the most reactive whilst amides are the least.StudySmarter Originals

    Moving on - here are a selection of reactions of acid derivatives themselves.

    Nucleophilic addition-elimination acylation reactions

    Acyl chlorides and acid anhydrides react with various nucleophiles in nucleophilic addition-elimination acylation reactions. Acylation reactions introduce the acyl group (RCO-) to another molecule. In nucleophilic addition-elimination reactions, as the name suggests, the acylated molecule is a nucleophile.

    The products and conditions of nucleophilic addition-elimination acylation vary depending on the combination of reactants, but we can generalise the reactions with the following equation:

    $$RCOZ+NuH\rightarrow RCONu+HZ$$

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives nucleophilic addition elimination reaction acylation general structure equation StudySmarterFig. 9: The structures of the species involved in the general equation for a nucleophilic addition-elimination acylation reaction. Their acyl groups and Z groups are highlighted.StudySmarter Originals

    Note that the Z group acts as a leaving group - it splits off from the rest of the acid derivative. The Z group then forms an acid by combining with hydrogen from the nucleophile. In certain reactions, this acid reacts with another molecule of the nucleophile to form a salt.

    Here's a handy table that summarises the different reactions. Notice that the reactions involving acyl chlorides take place at room temperature whilst the reactions involving acid anhydrides require heating. This is because acyl chlorides are more reactive than acid anhydrides, as we looked at earlier.

    NucleophileAcyl chlorideAcid anhydride
    ProductsConditionsProducts Conditions
    WaterCarboxylic acidHydrochloric acidRoom temperatureCarboxylic acidHeat
    Primary alcohol (including phenol)EsterHydrochloric acidEsterCarboxylic acid
    AmmoniaAmideAmmonium chlorideAmideAmmonium salt
    Primary amineN-substituted amideAmmonium saltN-substituted amideAmmonium salt

    Table 1: Nucleophiles, acyd chlorides and acid anhydrides.

    You can learn about the general mechanism for this type of reaction in the article Acylation. There, you'll also find specific examples of nucleophilic addition-elimination acylation reactions.

    Hydrolysis of acyl chlorides, alkyl chlorides, and acyl chlorides

    You can see from the nucleophilic addition-elimination reactions above that acyl chlorides react relatively easily with water. Any reaction in which water breaks a chemical bond is known as a hydrolysis reaction, and so we can say that acyl chlorides are easily hydrolysed. However, other organic molecules containing chlorine are not so easily hydrolysed. It all depends on the strength of the C-Cl bond and the partial charge of the C-Cl carbon atom. Let’s explore why.

    Acyl chlorides are relatively easily hydrolysed.

    • The C-Cl carbon atom is also bonded to an oxygen atom.
    • Both chlorine and oxygen are more electronegative than carbon and so leave the carbon atom with a large partial positive charge.
    • This makes the C-Cl bond weaker and more easily broken, and makes the carbon atom extremely vulnerable to nucleophilic attack (such as by water).

    Alkyl chlorides

    Alkyl chlorides (halogenoalkanes) are less easily hydrolysed. In fact, hydrolysis of alkyl chlorides requires reflux with a strong alkali catalyst and uses the negative hydroxide ion (OH-; a much stronger nucleophile) instead of a neutral water molecule.

    • The C-Cl carbon atom is only bonded to one electronegative atom (chlorine) and so is less partially positively charged than the C-Cl carbon atom in acyl chlorides.
    • This means that the C-Cl bond is stronger, and the carbon atom is less susceptible to nucleophilic attack.

    Aryl chlorides

    Aryl chlorides (chloroarenes) can’t be hydrolysed, except under extremely severe conditions.

    • Thhe C-Cl carbon atom is part of a benzene ring, which contains a delocalised pi electron system.
    • One of the chlorine atom’s lone pairs of electrons overlaps with the delocalised electron system and causes the C-Cl bond to take on some double bond character.
    • This strengthens the bond and means that it is less easily broken.
    • The electron movement also decreases the polarity of the C-Cl bond and makes the carbon atom less partially positively charged.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives hydrolysis acyl chloride alkyl chloride aryl chloride StudySmarterFig. 10: The relative ease of hydrolysis of acyl chlorides, alkyl chlorides, and aryl chlorides. Acyl chlorides are the most easily hydrolysed whilst aryl chlorides are the least.StudySmarter Originals

    Friedel-Crafts acylation reactions

    Friedel-Crafts acylation reactions are another type of acylation reaction involving acyl chlorides or acid anhydrides. They introduce the acyl group (RCO-) to benzene or another aromatic molecule.

    Friedel-Crafts acylation reactions are examples of electrophilic substitution reactions and involve an aluminium chloride catalyst. They all produce an aromatic ketone and an acid with the structure HZ, where Z is the acid derivative's Z group. Once again, the Z group acts as a leaving group:

    • Acyl chlorides react with benzene to produce an aromatic ketone and hydrochloric acid (HCl).
    • Acid anhydrides react with benzene to produce an aromatic ketone and a carboxylic acid (RCOOH).

    Here's the general equation:

    $$RCOZ+C_6H_6\rightarrow C_6H_5COR+HZ$$

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives Friedel-Crafts acylation general reaction equation structure StudySmarterFig. 11: The structures of the species involved in the general equation for a Friedel-Crafts acylation reaction. Their acyl groups and Z groups are highlighted.StudySmarter Originals

    For a closer look at Friedel-Crafts acylation, head over to Reactions of Benzene. You might also want to check your exam specification to see if you need to learn about the general mechanism for electrophilic substitution reactions (which include Friedel-Crafts acylation). If you do, Benzene Electrophilic Substitution has got you covered.

    Carboxylic Acid Derivatives - Key takeaways

    • Carboxylic acid derivatives are molecules closely related to carboxylic acids. They all contain the acyl group (RCO-) joined to a Z group.
    • The Z group contains an electronegative atom directly bonded to the acyl group's C=O carbon atom. This makes acid derivatives polar.
    • Types of acid derivatives include:
      • Esters (RCOOR').
      • Amides (RCONH2).
      • Acid anhydrides (RCOOCOR').
      • Acyl chlorides (RCOCl).
    • Acyl chlorides are prepared by reacting carboxylic acids with phosphorous(V) chloride, phosphorous(III) chloride, or sulphur dichloride oxide.
    • Acyl chlorides and acid anhydrides frequently react in acylation reactions. These introduce the acyl group (RCO-) to another molecule.
      • Nucleophilic addition-elimination acylation reactions add the acyl group onto a nucleophile.
      • Friedel-Crafts acylation reactions add the acyl group onto an aromatic molecule, producing an aromatic ketone.
      • When it comes to relative reactivity: Acyl chlorides > acid anhydrides > carboxylic acids and esters > amides.
      • When it comes to the ease of hydrolysis: Acyl chlorides > alkyl chlorides > aryl chlorides.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Carboxylic Acid Derivatives

    What are carboxylic acid derivatives?

    Carboxylic acid derivatives are molecules closely related to carboxylic acids. They all contain the acyl group, but instead of the hydroxyl group (-OH) found in carboxylic acids, acid derivatives contain a Z group. 

    What are functional derivatives of carboxylic acids?

    Functional derivatives of carboxylic acids is just another term for carboxylic acid derivatives. These are molecules closely related to carboxylic acids. They all contain the acyl group, but instead of the hydroxyl group (-OH) found in carboxylic acids, acid derivatives contain a Z group. 

    Which is the most reactive acid derivative?

    Acyl chlorides (RCOCl) are the most reactive type of carboxylic acid derivatives.

    What are the four derivatives of carboxylic acids?

    The four main types of carboxylic acid derivatives are amides, esters, acid anhydrides, and acyl chlorides.

    What are some examples of carboxylic acids in everyday life?

    The most well-known carboxylic acid is probably ethanoic acid (CH3COOH), found in kinds of vinegar such as balsamic and cider. Methanoic acid's alternate name (formic acid) comes from the Latin word Formica, meaning ant, and refers to its presence in various stinging and biting insects. Three other straight-chain carboxylic acids (with six, eight, and ten carbon atoms respectively) are named after the Latin term for goat.  Collectively, they account for 15% of the fat in goat's milk.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following are the four main types of acid derivatives?

    True or false? Acid derivatives are polar molecules.

    The dehydration reaction between two carboxylic acids produces ____.

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