What are alcohols?

Alcohols are a homologous series of chemicals. This means all alcohols have similar physical and chemical properties.
Alcohols are saturated organic molecules. They are saturated because they only contain single bonds so no additional atoms can be added to them. They are organic because they contain hydrogen and carbon atoms.


Examples of alcohols

Alcohols have the general formula CH₂ₙ₊₁OH (or CH₂ₙ₊₂O)

Ethanol is the most common alcohol it has the formula C₂H₅OH

Other alcohols all contain different numbers of carbon atoms.

Naming alcohols

The prefix of the name of an alcohol is dependant on the number of carbon atoms it contains. The suffix of an alcohol's name with always be -anol because it is an alcohol.

Organic molecule prefix








For example, an alcohol with four carbon atoms would have the name butanol


The structure of alcohols

All alcohols have a functional -OH group attached at the end of the alcohol. All carbon atoms are bonded to other carbon atoms with single bonds, all other bonds are single carbon - hydrogen bonds.

The structue of the first four alcohols





The properties of alcohols

All alcohols have the following properties

  • Good solvents
  • High combustibility
  • High volatility


The production of alcohol

Alcohol can be produced in two different ways. Through the fermentation of glucose by yeast or through catalytic addition.


Fermentation of yeast

Yeast can turn glucose into ethanol through anaerobic respiration.

glucose --> ethanol + carbon dioxide (+energy)


C₆H₁₂O₆ (aq) --> 2C₂O₅OH (aq) + 2CO₂ (g)


Catalytic addition

 Alcohol can also be produced by reacting alkenes with steam at high temperature and pressure while using a catalyst.


ethene + steam ⇌  ethanol

C₂H₄ (g) + H₂O (g) ⇌  C₂H₅OH (l)


If different alkenes are used in the reaction, different alcohols are produced, for example propene would produce propanol.


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