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5.5: Diastereomers - more than one chiral center

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  • Learning Objective

    • recognize and classify diastereomers

    Diastereomers are stereoisomers with two or more chiral centers that are not enantiomers. Diastereomers have different physical properties (melting points, boiling points, and densities). Depending on the reaction mechanism, diastereomers can produce different stereochemical products.


    So far, we have been analyzing compounds with a single chiral center. Next, we turn our attention to those which have multiple chiral centers. We'll start with some stereoisomeric four-carbon sugars with two chiral centers.


    To avoid confusion, we will simply refer to the different stereoisomers by capital letters.

    Look first at compound A below. Both chiral centers in have the R configuration (you should confirm this for yourself!). The mirror image of Compound A is compound B, which has the S configuration at both chiral centers. If we were to pick up compound A, flip it over and put it next to compound B, we would see that they are not superimposable (again, confirm this for yourself with your models!). A and B are nonsuperimposable mirror images: in other words, enantiomers.


    Now, look at compound C, in which the configuration is S at chiral center 1 and R at chiral center 2. Compounds A and C are stereoisomers: they have the same molecular formula and the same bond connectivity, but a different arrangement of atoms in space (recall that this is the definition of the term 'stereoisomer). However, they are not mirror images of each other (confirm this with your models!), and so they are not enantiomers. By definition, they are diastereomers of each other.

    Notice that compounds C and B also have a diastereomeric relationship, by the same definition.

    So, compounds A and B are a pair of enantiomers, and compound C is a diastereomer of both of them. Does compound C have its own enantiomer? Compound D is the mirror image of compound C, and the two are not superimposable. Therefore, C and D are a pair of enantiomers. Compound D is also a diastereomer of compounds A and B.

    This can also seem very confusing at first, but there some simple shortcuts to analyzing stereoisomers:

    Stereoisomer shortcuts

    If all of the chiral centers are of opposite R/S configuration between two stereoisomers, they are enantiomers.

    If at least one, but not all of the chiral centers are opposite between two stereoisomers, they are diastereomers.

    (Note: these shortcuts to not take into account the possibility of additional stereoisomers due to alkene groups: we will come to that later)

    Here's another way of looking at the four stereoisomers, where one chiral center is associated with red and the other blue. Pairs of enantiomers are stacked together.


    We know, using the shortcut above, that the enantiomer of RR must be SS - both chiral centers are different. We also know that RS and SR are diastereomers of RR, because in each case one - but not both - chiral centers are different.




    1. Determine the stereochemistry of the following molecule:





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