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Mastering the Art of Naming Carboxylic Acids: A Comprehensive Guide

Naming Carboxylic Acids: Understanding the IUPAC Nomenclature System

Carboxylic acids are organic compounds containing a carboxyl group (-COOH) attached to an alkyl or aryl group. They are widely used in the production of pharmaceuticals, perfumes, soaps, and detergents.

The naming of carboxylic acids is critical for their identification, synthesis, and use. In this article, we will explore the different ways of naming carboxylic acids using the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) nomenclature system.

Naming Noncyclic Carboxylic Acids

When naming a noncyclic carboxylic acid, the parent chain refers to the longest continuous carbon chain containing the -COOH group. To name the compound, we add the suffix -oic acid to the stem of the parent chain.

For example, methane’s parent chain is one carbon long, so it is named methanoic acid. Ethane’s parent chain is two carbon atoms long, so it is named ethanoic acid.

The parent chain can have substituents like halogens, alkenes, and alkynes, among others. In such a case, the substituent prefix comes before the parent’s stem, followed by the suffix -oic acid.

Naming Carboxylic Acids on a Ring

Cyclic carboxylic acids have a ring structure and can be classified as substituent or parent. If the -COOH group is a substituent, the compound’s name starts with the prefix carboxy-.

The carbon atom that carries the -COOH group is assigned position one, and the other atoms in the ring are numbered sequentially, proceeding in either direction. If the -COOH group is the parent, the ring’s carbon atoms are numbered to give the carboxylic acid the lowest possible position.

The carboxylic acid’s name is determined by adding the suffix -carboxylic acid to the parent ring’s name.

Naming Carboxylic Acids with Functional Groups

Carboxylic acids can have functional groups such as halogens, alcohols, nitriles, and carboxylic acid derivatives. The priority of these functional groups is determined by referring to the functional group priority table.

When the parent chain contains both the -COOH group and another functional group, we use the suffix of the functional group that has a higher priority. The -COOH group, in such cases, is given the prefix carboxy-.

For example, the carboxylic acid containing a hydroxyl group is called 2-hydroxypropanoic acid. Suppose functional groups have equal priority and are in the same parent chain.

In that case, we arrange them in alphabetical order and use prefixes before the stem.

Common Names of Carboxylic Acids

Simple carboxylic acids can also be referred to using common names that use Greek letters to denote the number of carbon atoms in the parent chain and the -COOH group. Formic acid, for example, has one carbon atom, so its name is methanoic acid (Greek letter “”).

Acetic acid has two carbon atoms, thus named ethanoic acid (Greek letter “”).

Naming Salts of Carboxylic Acids

The naming of carboxylic acid salts consists of replacing the -COOH group’s suffix with the suffix -ate. The cation in the salt, which may be an alkali metal ion or ammonium ion, is named first, followed by the anion.

For example, the salt formed from the reaction of sodium hydroxide with ethanoic acid is called sodium ethanoate.

Naming Carboxylic Acid Derivatives

Carboxylic acid derivatives are compounds formed from the functional replacement of the -OH group of the carboxylic acid with another group. They include esters, amides, acid chlorides, and anhydrides.

Naming Carboxylic Acid Derivatives with Substituents

The nomenclature rules for carboxylic acid derivatives with substituents are similar to those of noncyclic carboxylic acids. The parent chain is selected by counting the longest continuous carbon chain that contains the -COX functional group, where X is the functional group’s symbol.

For example, the compound with a -COOCH3 functional group is named methyl ethanoate.

Naming Carboxylic Acid Esters

Esters have the -COO- functional group and are formed by a reaction between alcohols and carboxylic acids. We name esters using the alkyl or aryl group attached to the -COO- group, followed by the parent acid’s name.

The parent chain’s name is given as a prefix, and the -ate suffix replaces the -ic ending of the acid. For example, ethyl methanoate is an ester formed by the reaction between methanoic acid and ethyl alcohol.

Naming Carboxylic Acid Anhydrides

Anhydrides are compounds formed by the reaction of two carboxylic acid molecules, which lose water molecules. They can be cyclic (intramolecular) or noncyclic (intermolecular).

Noncyclic anhydrides are named using the two parent carboxylic acid names, where the suffix -ic acid is removed, and the word anhydride is added. For example, the anhydride formed from acetic and propionic acid is named propionyl acetate.

Cyclic anhydrides are named by the cyclic carboxylic acid they are derived from, followed by the word anhydride.

Naming Amides of Carboxylic Acids

Amides are compounds formed by replacing the -OH functional group of a carboxylic acid with an amino group (-NH2) or substituted amino group (-NR2). To name the amides of carboxylic acids, we use the parent chain’s name, followed by the suffix -amide.

The nitrogen atom bonded to the carbonyl carbon is assigned position one; the other atoms are numbered sequentially from the point of attachment. For example, ethanamide is an amide formed by the reaction of ethanoic acid with ammonia.

Naming Carboxylic Acid Chlorides

Carboxylic acid chlorides are formed by the reaction between thionyl chloride (SOCl2) or phosphorous (V) chloride (PCl5) and a carboxylic acid. The nomenclature of carboxylic acid chlorides is obtained by changing the suffix -ic acid to -yl chloride.

For example, ethanoyl chloride is an acid chloride obtained from ethanoic acid.


Correctly naming carboxylic acids and their derivatives is essential for their identification, synthesis, and use. The IUPAC nomenclature system provides a standardized way to name organic compounds worldwide.

By following the rules of the IUPAC nomenclature, researchers and chemists can avoid mislabeling compounds, prevent confusion, and ensure the accuracy of their work in the field of organic chemistry. In summary, the article explores the ways to name carboxylic acids and their derivatives using the IUPAC nomenclature system.

We discussed naming noncyclic carboxylic acids, carboxylic acids on a ring, carboxylic acids with functional groups, common names, salts, and derivatives such as esters, anhydrides, amides, and acid chlorides. Accurately naming these compounds is essential for their identification, synthesis, and application in various fields, such as pharmaceuticals and detergents.

The takeaway is that following the IUPAC nomenclature system helps avoid confusion and mislabeling, ensuring accuracy and safety in handling these compounds. FAQs:


What is a carboxylic acid? A carboxylic acid is an organic compound containing a carboxyl group (-COOH) attached to an alkyl or aryl group.

2. How do you name noncyclic carboxylic acids?

To name a noncyclic carboxylic acid, identify the parent chain containing the -COOH group, and add the suffix -oic acid to the stem of the parent chain. 3.

How do you name carboxylic acid derivatives? Carboxylic acid derivatives, such as esters, amides, anhydrides, and acid chlorides, are named by identifying the parent chain’s name and adding a functional group suffix.

4. Why is it essential to name carboxylic acids and their derivatives correctly?

Accurately naming carboxylic acids and their derivatives reduces confusion, prevents mislabeling, and ensures the accuracy and safety of handling these compounds. 5.

What framework do we use to name carboxylic acids and their derivatives? The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) nomenclature system provides a standardized way to name organic compounds worldwide.

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