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1.2.3: The Functional Group

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    Learning Objectives
    • Define functional group.
    • Identify the functional group(s) present in organic compounds.

    With over twenty million known organic compounds in existence, it would be very challenging to memorize chemical reactions for each one. Fortunately, molecules with similar functional groups tend to undergo similar reactions. A functional group is defined as an atom or group of atoms within a molecule that has similar chemical properties whenever it appears in various compounds. Even if other parts of the molecule are quite different, certain functional groups tend to react in certain ways.

    We've already looked at alkanes, but they are generally unreactive. We primarily use alkanes as a source of energy when they are combusted. While the majority of functional groups involve atoms other than carbon and hydrogen, we will also look at some that include only carbon and hydrogen. Some of the most common functional groups are presented in the following sections.

    Organic molecules vary greatly in size and when focusing on functional groups, we want to direct our attention to the atoms involved in the functional group. As a result, the abbreviation R is used in some examples. The letter R is used in molecular structures to represent the “Rest of the molecule”. It consists of a group of carbon and hydrogen atoms of any size. It is used as an abbreviation since a group of carbon and hydrogen atoms does not affect the functionality of the compound. In some molecules, you will see R, R’, or R’’ which indicates that the R groups in the molecule can be different from one another. For example, R might be –CH2CH3 while R’ is –CH2CH2CH2CH3.

    The structure of capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat in peppers, incorporates several functional groups, labeled in the figure below and explained throughout this section.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) The structure of capsaicin

    The table below summarizes the structures that will be discussed in this chapter:

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\) Selected Organic Functional Groups

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)
    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Identify the common functional groups for ATP.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)


    The common functional groups for ATP are hydroxyl, ether and amine. The other functional groups are covered in higher organic chemistry courses.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\) ATP
    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Identify the functional groups (other than alkanes) in the following organic compounds. State whether alcohols and amines are primary, secondary, or tertiary.

    funct grp recog ch 2 sect 13.png


    funct grp recog ch 2 sect 13 solutions.png


    • Functional groups consist of a single atom (such as Cl) or a group of atoms (such as CO2H). It can determine the chemical reactivity of a molecule under a given set of conditions
    • The major families of organic compounds are characterized by their functional groups.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Libretext: Chemistry for Allied Health (Soult)

    TextMap: Organic Chemistry (Wade).

    1.2.3: The Functional Group is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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