IB Chemistry home > Syllabus 2016 > Organic chemistry > Chemical properties

Syllabus ref: 10.2  Syllabus ref: 20.1

Chemical properties are the tendency a substance has to undergo chemical reaction. Organic compounds are covalent, but they often react via ionic intermediates.

Nature of science:

Use of data-much of the progress that has been made to date in the developments and applications of scientific research can be mapped back to key organic chemical reactions involving functional group interconversions.


Essential idea: Structure, bonding and chemical reactions involving functional group interconversions are key strands in organic chemistry.

Alkanes: Alkanes have low reactivity and undergo free-radical substitution reactions.

Alkenes: Alkenes are more reactive than alkanes and undergo addition reactions. Bromine water can be used to distinguish between alkenes and alkanes.

Alcohols: Alcohols undergo nucleophilic substitution reactions with acids (also called esterification or condensation) and some undergo oxidation reactions.

Halogenoalkanes: Halogenoalkanes are more reactive than alkanes. They can undergo (nucleophilic) substitution reactions. A nucleophile is an electron-rich species containing a lone pair that it donates to an electron-deficient carbon.

Polymers: Addition polymers consist of a wide range of monomers and form the basis of the plastics industry.

Benzene: Benzene does not readily undergo addition reactions, but does undergo electrophilic substitution reactions.

Understandings - HL

Essential idea: Key organic reaction types include nucleophilic substitution, electrophilic addition, electrophilic substitution and redox reactions. Reaction mechanisms vary and help in understanding the different types of reaction taking place.

Nucleophilic Substitution Reactions:

SN1 represents a nucleophilic unimolecular substitution reaction and SN2 represents a nucleophilic bimolecular substitution reaction. SN1 involves a carbocation intermediate. SN2 involves a concerted reaction with a transition state.

For tertiary halogenoalkanes the predominant mechanism is SN1 and for primary halogenoalkanes it is SN2. Both mechanisms occur for secondary halogenoalkanes.

The rate determining step (slow step) in an SN1 reaction depends only on the concentration of the halogenoalkane, rate = k[halogenoalkane]. For SN2, rate = k[halogenoalkane][nucleophile]. SN2 is stereospecific with an inversion of configuration at the carbon

SN2 reactions are best conducted using aprotic, non-polar solvents and SN1 reactions are best conducted using protic, polar solvents.

Electrophilic Addition Reactions:

An electrophile is an electron-deficient species that can accept electron pairs from a nucleophile. Electrophiles are Lewis acids.

Markovnikov's rule can be applied to predict the major product in electrophilic addition reactions of unsymmetrical alkenes with hydrogen halides and interhalogens. The formation of the major product can be explained in terms of the relative stability of possible carbocations in the reaction mechanism.

Electrophilic Substitution Reactions:

Benzene is the simplest aromatic hydrocarbon compound (or arene) and has a delocalized structure of p bonds around its ring. Each carbon to carbon bond has a bond order of 1.5. Benzene is susceptible to attack by electrophiles.

Reduction Reactions:

Carboxylic acids can be reduced to primary alcohols (via the aldehyde). Ketones can be reduced to secondary alcohols. Typical reducing agents are lithium aluminium hydride (used to reduce carboxylic acids) and sodium borohydride.

Applications and skills

Alkanes: Writing equations for the complete and incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons. Explanation of the reaction of methane and ethane with halogens in terms of a free-radical substitution mechanism involving photochemical homolytic fission.

Alkenes: Writing equations for the reactions of alkenes with hydrogen and halogens and of symmetrical alkenes with hydrogen halides and water. Outline of the addition polymerization of alkenes. Relationship between the structure of the monomer to the polymer and repeating unit.

Alcohols: Writing equations for the complete combustion of alcohols. Writing equations for the oxidation reactions of primary and secondary alcohols (using acidified potassium dichromate(VI) or potassium manganate(VII) as oxidizing agents). Explanation of distillation and reflux in the isolation of the aldehyde and carboxylic acid products. Writing the equation for the condensation reaction of an alcohol with a carboxylic acid, in the presence of a catalyst (eg concentrated sulfuric acid) to form an ester.

Halogenoalkanes: Writing the equation for the substitution reactions of halogenoalkanes with aqueous sodium hydroxide.

Applications and skills - HL

Nucleophilic Substitution Reactions:

Explanation of why hydroxide is a better nucleophile than water.

Deduction of the mechanism of the nucleophilic substitution reactions of halogenoalkanes with aqueous sodium hydroxide in terms of SN1 and SN2 mechanisms. Explanation of how the rate depends on the identity of the halogen (ie the leaving group), whether the halogenoalkane is primary, secondary or tertiary and the choice of solvent.

Outline of the difference between protic and aprotic solvents.

Electrophilic Addition Reactions:

Deduction of the mechanism of the electrophilic addition reactions of alkenes with halogens/interhalogens and hydrogen halides

Electrophilic Substitution Reactions:

Deduction of the mechanism of the nitration (electrophilic substitution) reaction of benzene (using a mixture of concentrated nitric acid and sulfuric acid).

Reduction Reactions:

Writing reduction reactions of carbonyl containing compounds: aldehydes and ketones to primary and secondary alcohols and carboxylic acids to aldehydes, using suitable reducing agents.

Conversion of nitrobenzene to phenylamine via a two-stage reaction.

In Chapter 10.3