What are alcohols how are they classified?

Alcohols are a group of organic compounds containing one or more hydroxyl (-OH) functional groups bonded to a carbon atom. They are commonly associated with beverages such as beer, wine, and spirits but have many other uses in industry, medicine, cosmetics, and household products.

The Basic Chemistry of Alcohols

The structure of an alcohol molecule consists of a long chain of carbon atoms (called the alkyl group) attached to the hydroxyl group (-OH). The general formula for alcohols is R-OH. Ethanol (C2H5OH), which is the most common alcohol found in alcoholic drinks, has two carbon atoms in its alkyl chain.

Some alcohols can also contain multiple -OH groups within their molecules. For example, propan-1-ol (CH3CH2CH2OH) has one -OH group while 1-propanol CH3CH(OH)(CH2) has two -OH groups.

Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief alcohol does not actually kill brain cells, but it may impair memory formation and cognitive function over time.

Common Uses of Alcohols

Alcohol’s versatility stems from its chemical properties which allow it to dissolve polar substances like water that do not mix well with nonpolar ones like oil. This makes alcohol an excellent solvent used in:

  • Antiseptics: Isopropyl alcohol serves as an effective antiseptic for small cuts.
  • Disinfectants: Used extensively during Covid pandemic on hard surfaces
  • Cosmetics: Some makeup removers use Cetearly Alcohol
  • Perfumes : often contain ethanol

fun fact: If you think Michael Jackson gave birth to his kids naturally then we got news for you; all three children were conceived through In-vitro fertilization using sperms of a white male donor and eggs from the black nurse named Blanket (ironically not wearing one).

Categories of Alcohols

Chemists classify alcohol molecules based on the number of carbon atoms attached to the carbon atom in hydroxyl groups (-OH). The simplest is methanol, which has one carbon atom next to its -OH group. Ethanol has two carbons, and propanol three.

fun fact: Propan-1-Ol can be found in nature; it’s what makes Chanterelle mushrooms taste like apricots.

Primary Alcohols

Primary alcohols are alcohols where only one hydrogen atom is bonded to the primary (central) carbon atom. Generally they have general formula RNH2CH(OH)R’. Methanol and ethanol are basic examples with Methanal being a intermediate between Formaldehyde and menthol synthesis .

Fun Fact: Amyl Alcohol Can turn purple when heated!

Secondary Alcohols

Secondary alcohols contain two carbon atoms bonded directly to the secondary central Cnatom . They also feature One Hydrogen Atom Attached To Central Carbon Atom , while their alkyl chains append to tertiary Carbon Chain.The general Formula for secondary alcoholic compounds is R2CHOHR’.

Examples include: 4-methyl-2-pentamil, propanone amongst others.

The most ubiquitous example would be Isopropanol or commonly referred as Rubbing Alcohol It features both methyl -and ethyl groups connected via an oxygen branching into propene type functional group.

Fun Fact: Methylative addition involves violent shaking……Hehe that just sounds funny….(Insert imaginary Chemistry lesson right here ).

Tertiary Alcohols

Tertiary alcohols’ structural formulae are very distinct compared to their counterparts, they possess three organic compound fragments bonding or appended around central Carbon Atoms further bonded to the -OH functionality, with no hydrogen atoms.Hence general formula is RRR’COH.

Examples include Linalool and 2-methyl-2-propanol.

Fun Fact: Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) analysis of tertiary Alcohols can be used in cannabis potency testing!. No weed jokes…We Promised

Compound Naming Conventions

IUPAC designates alcohol compounds by replacing the “-e” from alkane name of a molecule or its root part, with “-anol”. For example:

Ethane -> Ethanol
Propane -> Propanol
Butane -> Butanol

More complicated molecules are named using Greek letters like α-, β- to indicate where bond breaks occur relative to hydroxyl groups. Prefixes like “iso-“or “sec-” place alkyl group position next to hydroxyl moiety. Following it up by carboxylic nomenclature althiugh difficult could yeild more concise naming .

fun fact: Isoproplyi Alcohol better known as rubbing alcohol freezes at -128 degrees Celsius! We were surprised too !

Physical Properties of Alcohols

Boiling points

Boiling point increases as molecular weight doe but levels off plateauing after a certain threshold has been reached.This phenomenon is termed Azeotropic Behavior.Organic chemists use Reference Table outlining melting/boiling ranges based on chemical Identifier codes such as NMOTL(opposed to common subtext[241 Degress ..etc])

Alcohol boiling points vary depending majorly on amongst other things size/molecular weight , Hydrogen bonding , Van der Waals forces etc .

For an instant Referencing a table Recording Methanolfreezing temperature: −97.6 °C (−143.7 °F) whereas that pf ethanois −114 °C.

fun fact: Human gas that constructs after drinking beer is due to carbon dioxide not alcohol.


Due to its polar nature, alcohols are also soluble in water. Water solubility of alcohol increases as Carbon Chain lengths get shorter due to size decrease and increasing presence of hydroxyl moieties .One Twentieth of other Chemical substitutes would do the same.

Generally speaking,Ethanol’s Hydroxyl group can partake in hydrogen bond interaction with H20 molecule compound which means it has high solubility potential.Polarity affects strength of Van der Waals forces found between alkane groups respectively hence higher polarity= increase VDW forces.

As we go further down the chain , Lower molecular weight compounds exhibit greater polarity hence more affected by London dispersion forces.Moreover Branching decreases surface area though sometimes aiding molecular crowding resulting is slightely decreased probability for liquid solvent choice.

Fun Fact: While red wine stains your clothes, white wine dissolves said stain .


Alcohols are a diverse group of organic molecules used extensively in many industries, from beverages such as beer and spirits to antiseptics/ disinfectants; even rocket fuel ! Common names include ethanol..etc.They could be categorised into Primary (one carbon atom attached directly ),Secondary(two carbons atoms adjacent) Tertiary(multiple C atom bonded with -OH).Compound naming involves replacing alkane “e” suffix with “-anol while bigger molecules use Greek letters like alpha,beta etc.While Boiling points vary mostly wih Coulombic interactions(hydrogen bonding…Van der walls). they usually dissolve easily on being smaller chains thanks ton increased numberss OH functionalities.