Chem Explorers

Mastering Alkene Naming: From IUPAC to Cis Trans and Beyond

The backbone of organic chemistry is carbon, an element known for its unique ability to form strong covalent bonds with other atoms. Carbon forms the basis of many compounds, including alkenes.

Alkenes are hydrocarbons with double bonds between two adjacent carbon atoms, giving them unique properties and reactivity. Naming alkenes, either simple or cyclic, plays a crucial role in organic chemistry.

In this article, we’ll cover the rules of IUPAC naming for alkenes and discuss the modifications made in naming, along with the rules for naming cyclic alkenes. 1) Naming Alkenes:

– IUPAC nomenclature rules for alkenes

IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) rules are standard for naming alkenes.

The rules state that we must name alkenes by finding the longest chain of carbons that includes the double bond. The parent chain should have the highest number of double bonds present, and the numbering of the carbons is done from the carbon closest to the double bond side.

We should separate the position of the double bond from the parent chain by listing the lowest number of the carbon involved in the bond. Eventually, we add the suffix “-ene” to the end of the alkene’s name.

For instance, the name of the molecule below is “1-Propene.”


– Modifications in naming alkenes

In some cases, there might be substituents present on the parent chain of the alkene molecule that requires special attention while naming. In such cases, we firstly name the substituents using the appropriate prefix and postfix, then name the parent chain.

At last, we provide the position of double bond by listing the carbon atoms involved and mentioning the compound has a double bond by writing “-ene.”

For example, the molecule below is named “3-Methyl-1-Butene.”


2) Naming Cyclic Alkenes

– Rules for naming cyclic alkenes

Naming cyclic alkenes follows the same rules as naming acyclic alkenes. The main difference is described in the prefix of the molecule’s name.

In the prefix, we replace the word “parent chain” with the word “cyclic” to represent the cyclic structure of the molecule. We also need to define the specific position of the double bond in the ring by pre-fixing the name using the number of carbon atoms that involves in the double bond and the word “cyclo” to represent the cyclic part.

The numbering of carbon atoms in a cyclic alkene molecule usually starts from the carbon atom that is closest to the double bond.

For instance, the name of the following cyclic alkene is “3-cyclohexene.”


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In conclusion, naming alkenes, either simple or cyclic, follows a straightforward set of rules governed by IUPAC.

Naming involves identifying the longest chain containing the double bond, labeling the atoms in the bond action, and adding the suffix “-ene.” When naming cyclic alkenes, the prefix “cyclic” is added, and the specific position of the double bond is indicated by numbering the carbon atoms in the ring starting with the double bond’s nearest carbon atom. By using these standardized naming conventions, chemists can communicate more effectively and efficiently while working with alkenes.

3) Naming Cis and Trans Alkenes:

Alkenes can have multiple forms due to their double bond’s freedom to rotate. When two different groups are present on the atoms adjacent to the double bond, the group’s position in space concerning each other plays an essential role in determining the molecule’s physical and chemical properties.

Two special terms are used to represent these forms: cis- and trans- isomers. – Terminal and internal alkenes

Before we jump into the cis and trans isomers, it’s essential to differentiate between internal and terminal alkenes.

Alkenes containing a double bond at the end of the carbon chain, meaning the last carbon atoms present, are called terminal alkenes. While in comparison, alkenes with a double bond present in the middle of the chain are called internal alkenes.

Internal alkenes have more varieties and more opportunities to show cis and trans isomers in their structure, since terminal alkenes can’t form any kind of multiple bonds. – Rules for Naming Cis and Trans Alkenes

Cis and trans refer to the orientation of the attached groups, meaning the groups’ relative position in three-dimensional space.

The cis isomer is used to describe the situation where two identical or similar groups are on the same side of the double bond. Similarly, trans describes the position when appropriate groups are on the opposite side.

When naming such alkenes, we need to specify whether they are cis or trans. To name cis isomers, we identify the two similar groups present on the same side of the double bond.

We then use the prefix “cis” before the name of the molecule. However, if the two groups attached are different, we need to list them alphabetically.

The alphabetical order of the groups is not considered while using the cis prefix in this case, since it only signifies the similarity of the groups’ position.

For example, the molecule containing two ethyl groups present on the same side of the double bond is named “cis-2-butene.”


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When it comes to naming the trans isomer, the methodology is similar.

We list the two groups present on the opposite side of the double bond and add the prefix “trans” before the name of the molecule. If there are different groups attached, we again list them alphabetically using the IUPAC naming system.

4) Naming E and Z Alkenes

Cis and trans isomers are a subset of E and Z isomers, which refer to any molecule with two different groups attached to the double bond. These two groups can be identical or different, but their relative positions in three-dimensional space define their E or Z nature.

– Distinguishing between stereoisomers

Stereoisomers have the same molecular formula and connectivity but differ in their spatial arrangement. Unlikely to the cis and trans isomers, the E and Z isomers only refer to dimethyl molecules, meaning both adjacent positions have distinct groups or molecules attached.

For example, let’s consider the molecule below:

Br H

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H Cl

In this molecule, the two carbons attached to the double bond have different elements or groups attached. They also have other elements or groups attached individually.

It’s the terminology and naming methodology used to describe these positions that differentiate E and Z from cis and trans. – Rules for naming E and Z alkenes

E and Z isomerism is a way to describe stereochemistry using the Cahn-Ingold-Prelog priority rules.

These rules are used to determine the priority of the groups surrounding the first carbon atom of the double bond. The groups can then be designated as E or Z based on their relationship to each other.

The priority of the groups is determined by the atomic number of the first atom attached to the carbon. If there is a tie, we move to the next atom and compare atomic numbers until the tie is broken.

We draw lines coming from the first carbon of the double bond, each line indicating a different group’s direction of priority. The E and Z nomenclature represents the relative position of the two highest priority groups on each carbon atom attached to the double bond.

If the highest priority groups are on opposite sides, the molecule is E (Eins in German, meaning Opposite), and Vice versa for Z.

In the example above, if we assign the priorities, we get the following:

Br H

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Cl H

The first carbon of the double bond has a higher priority group of Bromine and Methyl.

In contrast, the second carbon’s highest priority group is Chlorine and Methyl. If we draw lines to connect the two highest priority groups, we’ll end up with a Z configuration.


Naming alkenes containing various forms of isomerism follows strict guidelines and can often be challenging. The naming of cis and trans alkenes requires attention to the relative position of the two groups attached to the double bond, whereas the naming of E and Z isomers relies on the Cahn-Ingold-Prelog priority rules.

By following these rules, chemists can communicate effectively and understand the spatial orientation of functional groups on alkene molecules. 5) Common Names for Simple Alkenes:

Naming something by a common name makes it much easier for us to understand and remember it, regardless of the subject.

Similarly, common names for simple alkenes refer to popular names that are easy to remember for the most commonly occurring alkene molecules, in contrast to the official IUPAC naming methodology. There are a few simple alkenes in everyday use, which also have simple and easy-to-remember names.

– Listing of common names for simple alkenes

1. Ethene: Also known as Ethylene, the simplest alkene consisting of two carbon and two hydrogen atoms.

Its common name, ethylene, is used worldwide to indicate its presence in various industrial processes, while Ethene represents its official IUPAC name. 2.

Propene: Propylene is a colorless gas used primarily as a feedstock for the chemical industry but also pervasive in everyday household items such as plastic, synthetic rubber, and even fragrance formulations. It has an official IUPAC name, Propene, and a common name, Propylene.

3. Butene: Butylene, or Butene, is a flammable gas that’s both dangerous and commercially useful.

It is a starting material for the petrochemical industry, making it an essential molecule in many manufacturing processes. Butene is a mixture of two different isomers, namely 1-Butene and 2-Butene.

4. Pentene: Pentylenes, Also known as Pentenes, are a form of hydrocarbon containing a chain of five carbon atoms with a double bond between carbon two and three.

It’s widely used to make plasticizers, surfactants, plastic, and synthetic rubbers.


Hexene: Hexenes are a group of molecules that possess two carbon double bonds and an internal carbon chain. The most common hexene is 1-hexene, which is one of the primary feedstocks for the petrochemical industry.

It is mainly used in the production of high-density polyethylene and is also a useful starting material for synthesizing hexene derivatives. 6.

Heptene: Heptenes are a group of hydrocarbons that contain seven carbon and fourteen hydrogen atoms. Like all alkenes, they possess a carbon-carbon double bond.

They come in two primary isomers, namely 1-Heptene and 2-Heptene, each having unique properties, particularly in the chemical industry. 7.

Octene: Octenes belong to the family of cyclic and unsaturated hydrocarbons, and their structure is similar to that of alkenes. Octene is used in the production of surfactants, plastic, and synthetic rubbers.

Like heptenes, octenes come in two primary isomers, namely 1-Octene and 2-Octene, each with unique properties in the chemical industry. 8.

Nonene: Nonenes are unsaturated hydrocarbons composed of nine carbon atoms and eighteen hydrogen atoms, and they belong to the family of alkenes. Like other big carbon chain alkenes, they have two primary isomers, namely 1-Nonene and 2-Nonene, which are used in the petrochemical industry as starting materials for the synthesis of polymers and other chemical compounds.

In summary, simplified naming of alkenes as common names can assist by providing clarity and ease of communication to ensure that they are employed appropriately in their respective uses. In conclusion, the naming of alkenes is a crucial aspect of organic chemistry, and following the IUPAC nomenclature rules ensures clear communication among chemists.

Modifications in naming, such as considering substituents and the parent chain, help accurately describe the structure of alkenes. Additionally, naming cyclic alkenes requires attention to the prefix and numbering of the ring.

Understanding the concepts of cis and trans isomers, as well as E and Z isomers, provides insight into the spatial arrangement of groups in alkenes. Lastly, common names for simple alkenes offer a more accessible way to refer to these molecules in everyday use.

Overall, proper naming allows for accurate identification and classification of alkenes, contributing to the understanding and advancement of organic chemistry. FAQs:


Why is it important to follow IUPAC naming rules for alkenes? Following IUPAC naming rules ensures standardized and clear communication in the field of organic chemistry.

2. Are there any modifications in naming alkenes?

Yes, modifications are made when there are substituents present on the parent chain of the alkene molecule. 3.

How do you name cyclic alkenes? Cyclic alkenes are named by using the prefix “cyclic” and numbering the carbon atoms in the ring starting from the nearest side of the double bond.

4. What is the difference between cis and trans isomers?

Cis isomers have identical or similar groups on the same side of the double bond, while trans isomers have the groups on opposite sides. 5.

How do you determine E and Z isomers? E and Z isomers are determined using the Cahn-Ingold-Prelog priority rules, which prioritize the groups attached to the carbon atoms in the double bond based on atomic numbers.

6. What are common names for simple alkenes?

Some common names for simple alkenes include ethylene, propylene, butene, pentene, hexene, heptene, octene, and nonene. 7.

Why are common names useful for alkenes? Common names provide simpler and more memorable alternatives to the official IUPAC names, facilitating easier understanding and communication in everyday contexts.

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