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19.2: Structural and Physical Properties of Carboxylic Acids

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  • Structure of the carboxyl acid group

    Carboxylic acids are organic compounds which incorporate a carboxyl functional group, CO2H. The name carboxyl comes from the fact that a carbonyl and a hydroxyl group are attached to the same carbon.


    The carbon and oxygen in the carbonyl are both sp2 hybridized which give a carbonyl group a basic trigonal shape. The hydroxyl oxygen is also sp2 hybridized which allows one of its lone pair electrons to conjugate with the pi system of the carbonyl group. This make the carboxyl group planar an can represented with the following resonance structure.



    Carboxylic acids are named such because they can donate a hydrogen to produce a carboxylate ion. The factors which affect the acidity of carboxylic acids will be discussed later.



    Physical Properties of Some Carboxylic Acids



    The table at the beginning of this page gave the melting and boiling points for a homologous group of carboxylic acids having from one to ten carbon atoms. The boiling points increased with size in a regular manner, but the melting points did not. Unbranched acids made up of an even number of carbon atoms have melting points higher than the odd numbered homologs having one more or one less carbon. This reflects differences in intermolecular attractive forces in the crystalline state. In the table of fatty acids we see that the presence of a cis-double bond significantly lowers the melting point of a compound. Thus, palmitoleic acid melts over 60º lower than palmitic acid, and similar decreases occur for the C18 and C20 compounds. Again, changes in crystal packing and intermolecular forces are responsible.

    The factors that influence the relative boiling points and water solubilities of various types of compounds were discussed earlier. In general, dipolar attractive forces between molecules act to increase the boiling point of a given compound, with hydrogen bonds being an extreme example. Hydrogen bonding is also a major factor in the water solubility of covalent compounds To refresh your understanding of these principles Click Here. The following table lists a few examples of these properties for some similar sized polar compounds (the non-polar hydrocarbon hexane is provided for comparison).

    Physical Properties of Some Organic Compounds


    IUPAC Name

    Molecular Weight

    Boiling Point

    Water Solubility

    CH3(CH2)2CO2H butanoic acid 88 164 ºC very soluble
    CH3(CH2)4OH 1-pentanol 88 138 ºC slightly soluble
    CH3(CH2)3CHO pentanal 86 103 ºC slightly soluble
    CH3CO2C2H5 ethyl ethanoate 88 77 ºC moderately soluble
    CH3CH2CO2CH3 methyl propanoate 88 80 ºC slightly soluble
    CH3(CH2)2CONH2 butanamide 87 216 ºC soluble
    CH3CON(CH3)2 N,N-dimethylethanamide 87 165 ºC very soluble
    CH3(CH2)4NH2 1-aminobutane 87 103 ºC very soluble
    CH3(CH2)3CN pentanenitrile 83 140 ºC slightly soluble
    CH3(CH2)4CH3 hexane 86 69 ºC insoluble

    The first five entries all have oxygen functional groups, and the relatively high boiling points of the first two is clearly due to hydrogen bonding. Carboxylic acids have exceptionally high boiling points, due in large part to dimeric associations involving two hydrogen bonds. A structural formula for the dimer of acetic acid is shown here. When the mouse pointer passes over the drawing, an electron cloud diagram will appear. The high boiling points of the amides and nitriles are due in large part to strong dipole attractions, supplemented in some cases by hydrogen bonding.