Advanced A Level Organic Chemistry: Reaction mechanisms - addition of HCN to aldehydes/ketones

Scroll down and take time to study the content and/or follow links or [Use the website search box]

organic reaction mechanismsDoc Brown's GCE Chemistry  Revising Advanced Level Organic Chemistry

GCE A Level Revision Notes PART 10 Summary of organic reaction mechanisms - A mechanistic introduction to organic chemistry and explanations of different types of organic reactions

email doc brown - comments - query?

Index of organic chemistry technical terms and mechanism pages

All my revision notes on the chemistry of aldehydes and ketones

All my advanced A level organic chemistry notes

Index of GCSE level oil and basic organic chemistry notes

Use your mobile phone or ipad etc. in 'landscape' mode

This is a BIG website, you need to take time to explore it [SEARCH BOX]

10.6 Aldehydes–Ketones

10.6.2 Nucleophilic addition reaction with hydrogen cyanide

Examples are explained of the organic chemistry mechanisms for aldehydes and ketones undergoing nucleophilic substitution, nucleophilic addition reactions are described with diagrams and full explanation revision notes.

Carbonyl compounds – ALDEHYDES and KETONES – introduction, Nucleophilic addition of hydrogen cyanide to form a hydroxy–nitrile.

The revision notes include full diagrams and explanation of the mechanisms and the 'molecular' equation and reaction conditions and other con–current reaction pathways for these reactions of aldehydes and ketones and products are also explained.

10.6 Carbonyl compounds – ALDEHYDES and KETONES

10.6.1 Introduction to aldehyde and ketone reactivity

Aldehydes and ketones readily undergo nucleophilic attack because of the highly polar carbonyl bond >Cδ+=Oδ caused by the big difference in the electronegativity between carbon (2.5) and oxygen (3.5).

An electron pair donating nucleophile (Nuc:), will therefore attack the 'positive carbon' (Cδ+) to form a C–Nuc bond. A comparison of electrophilic addition to alkenes with nucleophilic addition to aldehydes/ketones is included in these notes.

10.6.2 Nucleophilic addition of hydrogen cyanide to aldehydes or ketones to give hydroxy–nitriles

The organic synthesis of hydroxynitriles from the reaction of cyanide with aldehydes and ketones

  • Examples of nucleophilic addition of hydrogen cyanide to aldehydes and ketones to give hydroxynitriles

    • (i) aldehydes and ketones nomenclature (c) doc b + HCN ==>

      • ethanal + hydrogen cyanide ==> 2-hydroxypropanenitrile

    • (ii) aldehydes and ketones nomenclature (c) doc b + HCN ==>

      • butanone + hydrogen cyanide ==> 2-hydroxy-2-methylbutanenitrile

  • What is the mechanism for the addition of hydrogen cyanide to the carbonyl group of an aldehyde or ketone?

  • e.g. RR'C=O + HCN ==> RR'C(OH)CN   [see mechanism 7 below]

  • The reaction involves mixing an aldehyde (R = H, R' = H or alkyl) or ketone (R and R' are either alkyl or aryl, but NOT H) with buffered potassium cyanide solution to provide a source of negative cyanide ions, the nucleophile.

  • The product of the nucleophilic addition of hydrogen cyanide is a hydroxynitrile (a cyanohydrin).

organic reaction mechanisms

mechanism 7 – nucleophilic addition of cyanide ion to an aldehyde or ketone R = H, alkyl or aryl

  • [mechanism 7 above] The >Cδ+=Oδ bond is highly polarised because of the great difference in electronegativity between carbon (2.1) and oxygen (3.5).

    • Step (1) The nucleophilic electron pair donating cyanide ion attacks the positive carbon of the polarised C=O bond, forming a C–C bond. The Π electron pair of the original C=O bond moves onto the oxygen to give it a whole negative charge. The cyanide ion is the nucleophile - donating an electron pair to a partially positive carbon atom.

    • Step (2) The intermediate formed, RR'C(CN)O, is a strong conjugate base and will abstract a proton from water to give the hydroxynitrile product and a hydroxide ion.


    • Why do alkenes react by electrophilic addition and carbonyl compounds by nucleophilic addition?

      • In alkenes, the electron pair ('rich') donating double bond, is much more likely to react with an electron pair accepting electrophile (Lewis acid) like a positive ion. Electron pair donating nucleophiles, especially if negative (e.g. X or OH) will tend to be repelled by the high electron density of the Π bond.

      • However, in carbonyl compounds, the highly polar >Cδ+=Oδ bond, will be susceptible to attack at the positive carbon by electron pair donating nucleophiles

trigonal planar bonding around carbonyl carbon in aldehydes ketones nucleophilic attack on postive carbon doc brown's advanced A level organic chemistry notes

  • In this nucleophilic addition reaction, at the functional group centre of the reaction (>C=O), you change from an unsaturated trigonal planar situation to a saturated tetrahedral bond network about the carbon atom. This carbon atom is, in most cases a chiral carbon and the product therefore can exhibit optical isomerism (R/S isomerism). However the product is usually a 50:50 mixture of the enantiomers (non–superimposable mirror–image forms) i.e. a racemic mixture.

    • This discussion only applies if the nucleophilic addition product has a chiral carbon i.e. has R/S isomers.

    • Why is the product an optically inactive racemate even if the product is an asymmetric molecule with a chiral carbon and hence exhibits R/S isomerism.

    • The reason can be clearly argued by considering the mechanism 7 above. The nucleophile attacks the carbon of the polarised carbonyl group (R2Cδ+=Oδ) in a trigonal planar bonding situation which changes to a tetrahedral on formation of the C–Nucleophile bond. Quite simply, there is a 50:50 chance of which side of the carbonyl group the nucleophile attacks and therefore a 50:50 chance of which optical isomer is formed as the configuration about the carbon atom changes.

    • Apart from explaining the formation of a racemic mixture, you can also argue, in turn, that the lack of optical activity in the product is itself evidence for an initial attack of the nucleophile at the carbon of the carbonyl group and you might reasonably expect a 2nd order rate expression.

      • rate = k[aldehyde/ketone][CN]

      • though I don't know if the kinetics are actually this simple for what seems to be an initial bimolecular rate determining step mechanism!

  • Examples where you do or do not get a racemic mixture of R/S isomers

    Nucleophilic addition of hydrogen cyanide to propanal: DO

    CH3CH2CHO  +  HCN  ===>  CH3CH2CH(OH)CN

    The product is 2-hydroxybutanenitrile and the chiral carbon atom is highlighted.

    Nucleophilic addition of hydrogen cyanide to propanone: DO NOT

    2-hydroxy-2-methylpropanenitrile structural formula doc brown's advanced A level organic chemistry revision notesCH3COCH3  +  HCN  ===>  CH3C(OH)(CN)CH3

    The product is 2-hydroxy-2-methylpropanenitrile and has NO chiral carbon atom because propane is a symmetrical ketone (R = R' in terms of diagrams above).


  COMPLETE MECHANISM and Organic Synthesis INDEX (so far!)


KS3 BIOLOGY QUIZZES ~US grades 6-8 KS3 CHEMISTRY QUIZZES ~US grades 6-8 KS3 PHYSICS QUIZZES ~US grades 6-8 HOMEPAGE of Doc Brown's Science Website EMAIL Doc Brown's Science Website
GCSE 9-1 BIOLOGY NOTES GCSE 9-1 CHEMISTRY NOTES and QUIZZES GCSE 9-1 PHYSICS NOTES GCSE 9-1 SCIENCES syllabus-specification help links for biology chemistry physics courses IGCSE & O Level SCIENCES syllabus-specification help links for biology chemistry physics courses
Advanced A/AS Level ORGANIC Chemistry Revision Notes US K12 ~grades 11-12 Advanced A/AS Level INORGANIC Chemistry Revision Notes US K12 ~grades 11-12 Advanced A/AS Level PHYSICAL-THEORETICAL Chemistry Revision Notes US K12 ~grades 11-12 Advanced A/AS Level CHEMISTRY syllabus-specificatio HELP LINKS of my site Doc Brown's Travel Pictures
Website content © Dr Phil Brown 2000+. All copyrights reserved on revision notes, images, quizzes, worksheets etc. Copying of website material is NOT permitted. Exam revision summaries & references to science course specifications are unofficial.

 Doc Brown's Chemistry