Alcohols vs. Ethers

Difference Between Alcohols And Ethers


One such class is the alcohols, in which a hydrogen atom of a hydrocarbon molecule is replaced by the hydroxyl group (-OH). The simplest alcohol is methyl alcohol, or methanol (CH3OH), with the structural formula:

Methanol, a colorless liquid used as jet fuel and in antifreeze, is commonly prepared from methane (CH4), the simplest hydrocarbon. As we saw earlier, ethyl alcohol, or ethanol (C2H5OH), the alcohol of “alcoholic” drinks, can be derived from ethane (C2H6). As these examples illustrate, simple alcohols can be named by altering the name of the “parent” hydrocarbon by adding ol or by adding yl and the word alcohol. More-complex alcohols can contain more than one hydroxyl group on each molecule.

Small, simple alcohols such as methanol and ethanol tend to be water-soluble, colorless, volatile, and flammable liquids. Larger alcohols tend to be less soluble and volatile.


Two alcohols can react together and eliminate a water molecule to form an organic compound known as an ether, as follows:

In other words, the reaction shows that ethyl alcohol plus ethyl alcohol yields diethyl ether (C2H5OC2H5) plus water.

Diethyl ether was the anesthetic first used in surgery. It has since been replaced in the operating room because of its extreme flammability. Ethers occur widely in nature—as the “glue” that holds plant cells together and as flower pigments. The antimalarial drug quinine is an ether derived from cinchona bark.



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