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Bredt’s Rule: Understanding Organic Chemistry’s Fundamental Concept

Bredt’s Rule in Organic Chemistry: Explained

When it comes to the fascinating world of organic chemistry, certain rules and concepts have proved themselves invaluable in understanding the behavior of molecules and their properties. One such concept is Bredt’s Rule, also known as the Bredt’s Criterion, first proposed in 1902 by German chemist Julius Bredt.

Although initially based on empirical observation, Bredt’s Rule has remained relevant in modern research and is a fundamental part of many organic chemistry textbooks. Bredt’s Rule states that a double bond cannot be placed at the bridgehead of a bridged ring system if it creates a trans-cycloalkene.

In other words, a double bond cannot be formed at the bridgehead carbon where two or more rings meet if that would result in a carbon-carbon double bond that is trans to the adjacent bridgehead carbon atom. This is due to the high ring strain that results from such a configuration, and the instability it creates.

The validity of Bredt’s Rule can be explained by analyzing the stability of trans-cycloalkenes compared to their cis-cycloalkenes counterparts. Trans-cycloalkenes, formed when the double bond is located on the bridgehead carbons, experience a greater level of ring strain compared to their cis counterpart.

This is due to the overlapping of the p-orbitals on the two bridgehead carbons that are perpendicular to the ring plane and the localized pi bond that stretches over multiple carbon atoms. This destabilizing force makes trans-cycloalkenes less stable than their cis-cycloalkene counterparts, rendering them unacceptable synthetically.

History of Bredt’s Rule

The history of Bredt’s Rule goes back to 1902 when Julius Bredt first proposed his empirical rule for predicting isomers in bridged ring systems. But it was not until 1924 when Bredt expanded on his observations and provided a logical explanation for the Ring Strain Model that explained the stability of cycloalkenes.

Applications of Bredt’s Rule

One of the primary applications of Bredt’s Rule is in predicting the formation of isomers in bridged ring systems during elimination reactions. When a molecule undergoes an elimination reaction, the leaving group is eliminated along with an adjacent hydrogen atom, resulting in the formation of a double bond.

When a bridged ring system is involved, the formation of the double bond is affected by Bredt’s Rule. The formation of the more stable cis-cycloalkene is preferred over the unstable trans-cycloalkene.

This preference for cis-cycloalkene can be explained because they contain a more stable bond angle, less ring strain, and no trans double bond that would destabilize the molecule. To gain a better understanding of Bredt’s Rule, it is essential to investigate the relevant chemical mechanisms involved.

Carbocations and free radicals are common intermediates in many reactions that obey this rule, such as the substrate-induced elimination reaction. The formation of a carbocation or a free radical requires a planar geometry for stability, which can only occur when the bridgehead carbons lack a carbon-carbon double bond.

Moreover, the sp2 hybridization, which is characteristic of a double bond, is incompatible with the formation of a carbocation or free radical as it leads to planar trigonal geometries that result in destabilization.


In conclusion, Bredt’s Rule is a fundamental concept in organic chemistry, especially in predicting the behavior of molecules in bridged ring systems.

Its relevance has spanned over a century, proving its value, despite its empirical origin. Based on the Ring Strain Model, it is clear that the stability of cycloalkenes determines the stability of the molecule, and this is influenced by the location of the double bond in bridged ring systems.

Although initially challenging to comprehend, the application of Bredt’s Rule is crucial in understanding intermediary reactions such as substrate-induced elimination reactions. Bredt’s Rule in organic chemistry explains that a double bond cannot be placed at the bridgehead of a bridged ring system if it creates a trans-cycloalkene due to high ring strain that creates instability.

Bredt’s Rule is validated because it explains the stability of cis-cycloalkenes compared to their trans-cycloalkene counterparts, which is due to overlapping of p-orbitals on perpendicular carbon atoms in the bridgehead. Bredt’s Rule is attributed to Julius Bredt, who observed this behavior in 1902, and explained it in 1924 using the Ring Strain Model.

The primary application of Bredt’s Rule is in predicting isomer formation during elimination reactions, where it is essential to understand the relevant chemical mechanisms.


1. What is Ring Strain?

Ring Strain is the energy generated in a cycloalkane molecule resulting from the deformation of its bond angles from the optimal 109.5 degrees tetrahedral angle.

2. What is a carbocation?

A carbocation is a molecule containing a positively charged carbon atom that is highly reactive and forms during many chemical reactions.

3. Why is sp2 hybridization incompatible with the formation of carbocations?

Sp2 hybridization results in planar trigonal geometries that destabilize the formation of carbocations, as a planar geometry is required for their formation.

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