Common Functional Groups and Macromolecules for AP Chemistry

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 9, 2011

Practice problems for these concepts can be found at:

If chemistry students had to learn the properties of each of the millions of organic compounds, they would face an impossible task. Luckily, chemists find that having certain arrangements of atoms in an organic molecule causes those molecules to react in a similar fashion. For example, methyl alcohol, CH3-OH, and ethyl alcohol, CH3-CH2-OH, undergo the same types of reactions. The –OH group is the reactive part of these types of molecule. These reactive groups are called functional groups. Instead of learning the properties of individual molecules, one can simply learn the properties of functional groups.

In our study of the simple hydrocarbons, there are only two functional groups. One is a carbon-to-carbon double bond. Hydrocarbons that contain a carbon-to-carbon double bond are called alkenes. Naming alkenes is very similar to naming alkanes. The major difference is that the carbon base has an -eneending instead of the -aneending. The carbon backbone of the base hydrocarbon is numbered so the position of the double bond has the lowest location number.

The other hydrocarbon functional group is a carbon-to-carbon triple bond. Hydrocarbons that contain a triple bond are called alkynes. Alkynes use the -yneending on the base hydrocarbon. The presence of a double or triple bond make these hydrocarbons unsaturated.

The introduction of other atoms (N, O, Cl, etc.) to organic compounds gives rise to many other functional groups. The major functional groups are shown in Table 18.2.

Common Functional Group


Carbon has the ability to bond to itself in long and complex chains. These large molecules, called macromolecules, may have molecular masses in the millions. They are large, complex molecules, but most are composed of repeating units called monomers. Figure 18.4 shows two macromolecules, cellulose and nylon, and indicates their repeating units.

Macromolecules are found in nature. Cellulose, wool, starch, and DNA are but a few of the macromolecules that occur naturally. Carbon's ability to form these large, complex molecules is necessary to provide the diversity of compounds needed to make up a tree or a human being. But many of the useful macromolecules that we use every day are created in the lab and industrial complex by chemists. Nylon, rayon, polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride are all synthetic macromolecules. They differ by which repeating units (monomers) are joined together in the polymerization process. Our society has grown to depend on these plastics, these synthetic fabrics. The complexity of carbon compounds is reflected in the complexity of our modern society.

Figure 18.4 Two macromolecules.

Practice problems for these concepts can be found at:

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