In this chapter, we examine the chemistry of the alcohol family of compounds. Alcohols can undergo a wide variety of reactions, and because of this reactivity and because they can be prepared in a number of different ways, alcohols occupy an important position in organic chemistry.
The discussion begins with an outline of the nomenclature of alcohols and phenols. We review the physical properties of these compounds, and discuss methods used to obtain the lower members of the series on an industrial scale. A detailed discussion of the laboratory preparation of alcohols follows, with particular emphasis on those methods that involve either the reduction of a carbonyl compound or the use of a Grignard reagent.
Certain reactions of alcohols were discussed in previous chapters. In this chapter, we concentrate on the oxidation of alcohols to carbonyl compounds. We also introduce the concept of protecting a sensitive functional group during an organic synthesis. The discussion then turns to the uses of phenols, their preparation and their chemical reactivity.
Infrared, nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectroscopy each can provide valuable information about alcohols and phenols, and we illustrate the application of these techniques to the identification of unknown alcohols and phenols with a number of examples.