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Chemical Names

The number of organic compounds is very large compared to inorganic compounds. Inorganic compounds by nature have an acid and a basic radical.Generally, the basic radical is a metal or a radical like ammonium. Acid radicals may be non metallic or a group of non metals like phosphate(PO4)3-, (SO4)2-, etc. A combination of the names of the basic radical and acid radical will be enough to describe the compound.

When it comes to certain complex compounds a separate nomenclature is followed in inorganic compounds. They are not many in number and can be named easily. However, there are more than a million organic compounds and every day there are many more getting added to this number. Hence it is impossible to give them a name which will not represent more than one compound.

A very systematic approach is needed and here we are going to discuss some of the names which were originally framed (Common names) and systematic names (IUPAC names). In a simple way, one can say that those organic compounds which are naturally occurring will have common names, while synthetic compounds or derivatives of the natural compounds always have a systematic name.

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Common Names of Organic Compounds

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Names for organic compounds are based on the functional groups. Functional groups are those parts of the molecule which participate in reactions whenever they are subjected to reactions. There are several functional groups namely Alkane, Alkene, Alkyne, Carboxylic acid, Alcohol, Aldehyde, Ketone, Amine, Amide, Ether, Ester and Sulphonic etc. The compounds containing up to four carbon atoms are named with a prefix Meth, Eth, Prop, and But. From five carbon atoms the names go by a prefix of the latin numerals viz. pent, hex, hept etc.

Thus for example the compounds with 1 carbon atom of different functional groups given above will be methane, methyl alcohol, methyl amine and that with 3 carbon atoms propane, propene, propyne, propionic acid, propyl alcoholm propanaldehyde, propanone, propylamine, propylamide, propylether, ethyl methyl ester, and propane sulphonic acid.
Common names also called as trivial names are some times not connected with this terminology.These names are derived from some characteristic, e.g., HCOOH is called formic acid, HCHO is formaldehyde, C6H6 is Benzene and CH3COOH is acetic acid etc.

List of Organic Compounds

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The common and IUPAC names of the organic compounds in the order of their functional groups are given in a tabular form below:


Common name
IUPAC name
CH3-CH2-CH2-CH3 n-Butane Butane
(CH3)2CH CH3 iso-Butane 2-methyl propane
CH3(CH2)4CH3 n-hexane Hexane
CH3.(CH3)2.C.CH3 neo pentane 2,2-di methyl propane
CH4 methane methane
CH3-CH3 Ethane Ethane
CH3-CH2-CH3 Propane Propane


CH2=CH2 Ethylene Ethene
CH3-CH=CH2 Propylene Propene
CH3-CH2-CH=CH2 Unsym butylene 1-butene
CH3-CH=CH-CH3 Sym butene 2-butene


H-C≡C-H Acetylene Ethyne
CH3-C≡C-H Methyl acetylene/
CH3-CH2-C≡C-H Ethyl acetylene/
CH3-C≡C-CH3 Di methyl acetylene


CH3-OH Methyl alcohol Methanol
CH3-CH2-OH Ethyl alcohol Ethanol
CH3-CH2-CH2-OH n- Propyl alcohol Propanol
CH3-CH(OH)-CH3 iso-propyl alcohol 1-propanol


CH3-O-CH3 Dimethyl ether Methoxy methane
CH3-CH2-O-CH2-CH3 Diethyl ether Ethoxy ethane
CH3-O-CH2-CH3 Ethylmethylether methoxy ethane


HCHO Formaldehyde Methanal
CH3CHO Acetaldehyde Ethanal
CH3-CH2-CHO Propanaldehyde Propanal


CH3COCH3 Acetone Propanone
CH3-CH2-CO-CH3 Ethyl methyl ketone Butanone

Carboxylic acids

HCOOH Formic acid Methanoic acid
CH3COOH Acetic Acid Ethanoic acid
CH3-CH2COOH Propionic acid Propanoic acid
CH3-CH2-CH2-COOH n-butyric acid Butanoic acid


H-CO-OCH3 Methyl formate Methyl methanoate
CH3-CO-OCH2-CH3 Ethyl acetate Ethyl ethanoate

Alkyl halides

CH3-Cl Methyl chloride Chloromethane
CH3-CH2-Br Ethyl bromide Bromoehtane

Acid Chloride

H-COCl Formyl chloride Methanoyl chloride
CH3-COCl Acetyl chloride Ethanoyl chloride

Acid amides

H-CO-NH2 Formamide Methanamide
CH3-CO-NH2 Acetamide Ethanamide

Amines (Primary)

CH3-NH2 Methyl amine Methanamine
CH3-CH2-NH2 Ethyl amine Ethanamine

Amines (Secondary)

(CH3)2-NH Di methyl amine N-methyl methanamine
CH3-CH2-(CH3)-NH Ethyl methyl amine N-methylethanamine

Amines (Tertiary)

(CH3)3N tri methyl amine N,N-dimethyl methanamine
CH3-CH2(CH3)2N Ethyl dimethyl amine N,N-dimethyl ethanamine

Other common names for compounds:

C6H6(Benzene), C6H5.OH (Phenol) C6H5.NH2 ( Aniline), C6H5.CH3( Toluene) C6H5COOH(Benzoic acid) C12H22O11(Sucrose).
Many other compounds have names, still in use, which are not in connivance with IUPAC guidelines but accepted, e.g., Camphor, Naphthalene, Anthracene, Isoprene, etc.
In order to systematize the naming of all the compounds, so that no two compounds will have the same name, an improved naming with some rules is followed. Accordingly, any new compound identified or any derivative of a compound synthesized, should follow the IUPAC norms.

One important aspect of IUPAC nomenclature is that IUPAC names are based on the structure of the compound. For convenience certain common names and trivial names are taken into account but most of these depend upon their substituted functional groups.
IUPAC names usually have three parts, which are Prefix, Root word and suffix.
Prefixes are words used for certain functional groups which find a mention before the root word.
Some of them are Chloro, Bromo, Iodo, Fluoro, Alkoxy, Nitro, Nitorso, etc. To indicate the number of the carbon atom over which the substituent is positioned, the numerical is added followed by a hyphen before the prefix. For example, if the chlorine is present on the 2nd carbon atom, it is named as 2-chloro.

In case of more than one substituent, both are to be specified before the root word, each one is mentioned separately, e.g., when chlorine atom is on second and methyl on third carbon atom, the name shall be 2-chloro, 3-methyl....
In the event, the same element is present either on two different carbons or on the same carbon atom, the number of the atoms is mentioned in Latin words like di, tri, tetra, etc.
Example 2, 2 - di chloro.....

Root words
indicate the number of carbon atoms in the main chain like meth, eth, prop, dec, etc.

No. of C atoms Root
No of C atoms
No of C atoms
1 Meth 2 Et 3 Prop
Dec 11
Trindec 14
Suffix is further divided into primary suffix and secondary suffix. Primary suffix indicates the saturation or unsaturation like -ene for alkene, present in the compound. If there are more than one, double or triple bonds, this is also mentioned as di, tri, tetra, etc.
Example: CH2=CH-CH2-CH=CH2 is 1,4-pentadiene.Secondary suffix indicates the functional group present in the compound.

The functional groups are mentioned as follows :
  • Alcohol -ol
  • Aldehyde -al
  • Ketone -one
  • Carboxylic acid -oic acid
  • Ester -oate
  • Acid chloride -oyl chloride
  • Alkyl cyanide -nitrile etc..
Groups like amine, amide nitro are used completely. For compounds with multiple functional groups a preferential system is designed.

The order of preference will be Acid, Acid ester, acid halide, acid amide, cyanide, aldehyde, ketone, amine, alcohol, ether, alkene, alkylhalide and branched chain.
 The functional groups are named in this order with the higher placed one taking preference.

In the case of the compounds, the term cyclo is added before the root word like 2-methyl cyclohexene. Aromatic compounds like benzene, toluene will retain their common names in their substituted compounds.
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