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Carboxylic Acids

Last Updated : 15 Jun, 2023
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Carboxylic Acid is a chemical compound that has a functional group that consists of -COOH atoms. Carboxylic acids are sometimes also called Fatty acids. All fatty acids are carboxylic acids but not all carboxylic acids are fatty acids. Fatty acids are aliphatic carboxylic acids that are found in natural fats in the form of glycerol esters and range in length from C12 to C18. The word carboxylic acids come from a carbon molecule that has both a carbonyl and a carboxyl group. Carboxylic acids are precursors for a variety of important organic compounds such as acid chlorides, esters, anhydrides, and amides, among others.

In this article, we will learn about Carboxylic acid, its structure, physical and chemical properties, preparations and others in detail.

What is a Carboxylic Acid?

An organic substance with a carboxyl functional group is called carboxylic acid

They’re found all over the place in nature, and humans can also make them synthetically. Carboxylic acids deprotonate to produce a carboxylate anion with the general formula R-COO, which can be used to make a variety of salts, including soaps. C=O prominent functional group is carboxylic acids. 

Structure of Carboxylic Acid

Carboxylic Acid consists of -COOH atoms. The open bond attached to the C atom shows that a long carbon chain can be attached to it. Among the two Oxygen atoms, one is attached to the C atom with a double bond, while another O atom is attached to C with an H atom as an alcohol group. For better understanding see the below attached picture.

Carboxylic Acid Structure


Examples of Carboxylic Acid

Some examples of carboxylic acids are as follows:

Nomenclature of Carboxylic Acids

To name any carboxylic acid chain, we can use the following steps:

Step 1: Identify the longest chain: Find the longest continuous carbon chain that contains the carboxyl group (–COOH). This chain serves as the parent chain for the name.

Step 2: Number the carbon atoms: Start numbering from the end closest to the carboxyl group, and assign the lowest possible numbers to the carbon atoms bearing the carboxyl group.

Step 3: Name the alkyl groups: If there are alkyl groups attached to the parent chain, identify and name them as substituents. Use prefixes like methyl, ethyl, propyl, etc., to indicate the number of carbon atoms in the alkyl group.

Step 4: Name the carboxyl group: The carboxyl group is named “-oic acid.” The carbon atom directly attached to the carboxyl group is numbered carbon 1. For example, a carboxyl group attached to a two-carbon chain is called “ethanoic acid.”

Step 5: Use prefixes for multiple carboxyl groups: If there are multiple carboxyl groups present in the compound, use Greek numerical prefixes like “di-” (two), “tri-” (three), etc., to indicate the number of carboxyl groups. The carbon chain containing the carboxyl groups becomes the parent chain.

Step 6: Include substituents: If there are other functional groups or substituents present in the molecule, name and locate them according to the IUPAC rules.

Example: IUPAC name of compound CH3CH2COOH.


This compound contains a two-carbon chain with a carboxyl group i.e., 3 carbon atoms in parent chain. The parent chain is propane, and the carboxyl group is named “oic acid.” Therefore, the name of this compound is “propanoic acid.”

Example: IUPAC name of compound CH3CH2CH2COOH.


This compound contains a three-carbon chain with a carboxyl group i.e., 4 carbon atoms in longest chain. The parent chain is butane, and the carboxyl group is named “oic acid.” Therefore, the name of this compound is “butanoic acid.”

Preparation of Carboxylic Acid

Carboxylic can be prepared using various techniques that are discussed below,

Oxidation of Primary Alcohols

Primary alcohols can be oxidized to carboxylic acids using strong oxidizing agents such as potassium permanganate (KMnO4) or chromic acid (H2CrO4). The alcohol is initially converted to an aldehyde, which is further oxidized to the carboxylic acid. The reaction typically requires the presence of an acid catalyst.

Carboxylic Acid Preparation from Alcohol


Oxidation of Aldehydes

Aldehydes can be oxidized to carboxylic acids using similar oxidizing agents as mentioned above. The aldehyde is directly converted to the carboxylic acid without an intermediate step. The reaction also requires an acid catalyst.

Aldehyde to Carboxylic Acid Preparation


Hydrolysis of Nitriles

Nitriles, which are organic compounds containing a cyano group (C≡N), can be hydrolyzed to carboxylic acids under acidic or basic conditions. In acidic conditions, nitriles are converted to amides, which are then further hydrolyzed to carboxylic acids. In basic conditions, nitriles are directly hydrolyzed to carboxylic acids.

Hydrolysis of Nitriles


Oxidation of Alkyl Benzenes

Alkyl benzenes, which are aromatic compounds containing an alkyl group attached to a benzene ring, can be oxidized to benzoic acids using strong oxidizing agents like potassium permanganate or chromic acid. The reaction typically requires high temperatures and the presence of an acid catalyst.

Alkyl Benzene to Carboxylic Acid Preparation


Grignard Reaction and Carbon Dioxide

Carboxylic acids can also be prepared by the reaction of a Grignard reagent (organomagnesium compound) with carbon dioxide (CO2). The Grignard reagent reacts with CO2 to form a carboxylate salt, which can be subsequently acidified to yield carboxylic acid.

Carboxylic Acid Preparation from Grignard Reagent


Learn more about, Methods of Preparation of Carboxylic Acids

Physical Properties of Carboxylic Acids

Some physical properties of Carboxylic Acids are as follows:

  • State: Carboxylic acids can exist in different states depending on their molecular weight. Generally, carboxylic acids with a low number of carbon atoms (up to about 5) are liquids at room temperature, while those with a higher number of carbon atoms are typically solids.
  • Odour: Carboxylic acids often have strong, pungent odours. Some examples include acetic acid (vinegar-like smell), formic acid (pungent odour), and butyric acid (rancid butter smell).
  • Solubility: Carboxylic acids with a low number of carbon atoms (up to about 4) are soluble in water as they form hydrogen bonds with water molecules. But as the number of carbon atoms increases, the solubility of carboxylic acids in water decreases. Other then water, carboxylic acids are more soluble in organic solvents like ethanol and methanol.
  • Boiling Points: Carboxylic acids have higher boiling points compared to hydrocarbons of similar molecular weight. This is because the carboxyl group enables the formation of intermolecular hydrogen bonds, which increase the strength of the attractive forces between molecules. Thus, carboxylic acids generally have higher boiling points than aldehydes, ketones, and alcohols of comparable molecular weight.
  • Acidity: Carboxylic acids are weak acids that can donate a proton (H+) from the carboxyl group. They are typically more acidic than alcohols but less acidic than mineral acids (such as hydrochloric acid). The acidity of carboxylic acids is due to the stability of the resulting carboxylate ion formed after the loss of a proton.
  • Reactivity: Carboxylic acids undergo various chemical reactions, including esterification (formation of esters), amidation (formation of amides), decarboxylation (loss of carbon dioxide), and oxidation (to form carbon dioxide and water).

Chemical Reactions of Carboxylic Acid

Carboxylic acids are very reactive compounds, thus they go through various different chemical reactions. Some of these reactions are as follows:

Reaction with Metals

Carboxylic acids react with metals like potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium to create salts. A proton will be liberated from the carboxyl group of the carboxylic acid throughout the reaction step, which is where the metal substitution will take place. H2 gas is produced in this process.

2CH3COOH + 2Na ⇢ 2CH3COONa + H2

Reaction with Carbonates and Bicarbonates Reaction

Carboxylic acids decompose into salts, water, and carbon dioxide gas when they come into contact with carbonates and bicarbonates.

2CH3COOH + Na2CO3 ⇢ 2CH3COONa + H2O + CO2

This reaction can also be used to see if a carboxyl group is present. Effervescence is produced when carboxylic acids combine with a saturated sodium bicarbonate solution, releasing CO2. In an aqueous NaHCO3 solution, however, most phenols do not produce effervescence. As a result, the reaction of bicarbonate with carboxylic acids aids in the differentiation of phenols from carboxylic acids.

Reaction with Alkali

Carboxylic acids react with alkalis, forming salts and water in the process.


Reduction of Carboxylic Acid to Alcohol

Reducing Agents: LiA1H4 in ether solution or with H0 in the presence of copper chromite (CuCr2O4) catalyst, BH3/THF (or diborane, B2H6), H2, Ru, and so on.

Reduction of Carboxylic Acid to Alcohol


Nucleophilic Acyl Substitution

Carboxylic acids go through nucleophilic substitution, some of these nucleophilic substitutions are: 

  • Formation of Acid Chlorides

Acid chlorides are formed when carboxylic acids combine with thionyl chloride (SOCl2), phosphorus pentachloride (PCl5), or phosphorus pentachloride. To understand the reaction, look at the examples below.

RCOOH + SOCl2 ⇢ RCOCl + SO2 + HCl

RCOOH + PCl5 ⇢ RCOCl + POCl3 + HCl

  • Esterification 

When carboxylic acids and alcohols are heated in the presence of strong sulphuric acid or dry hydrochloric acid, fruity esters result.



Sulphuric acid is used as a dehydrating agent in this reaction. An equilibrium reaction is a reaction for example. As a result, to keep the reaction moving forward, the ester is distilled.

  • Anhydrides Formation 

The generation of acid anhydrides occurs when two molecules of carboxylic acid are heated with a dehydrating agent such as phosphorus pentoxide.


  • Amide Compound Formation 

Ammonium salts are produced by treating carboxylic acids with ammonia. Ammonium salts lose a water molecule when heated, resulting in amide production.

Amide Compound Formation


Reactions of Carboxyl Group

Carboxyl Group compounds i.e., derivatives of carboxylic acids are also very reactive compounds in nature. Thus, they also go th

  • Decarboxylation: When sodium salts of carboxylic acids are distilled with soda lime (NaOH + CaO), a decarboxylation process occurs, resulting in alkanes.
Reactions of Carboxyl Group


  • Dry Distillation of Calcium Salts:

(RCOO)2Ca{Calcium Salt} ⇢ RCOR{Ketone} + CaCO3

Formaldehyde is produced by heating calcium formate.

(HCOO)2Ca ⇢ HCHO{Formaldehyde} + CaCO3

An aldehyde is generated when a calcium salt of an acid (other than formic acid) and calcium formate are heated together.

(CH3COO)2Ca{calcimu Acetate} + (HCOO)2Ca{Calcium Formate} ⇢ 2CH3CHO{Acetaldehyde} + CaCO3

  • Conversion to Nitriles:

Alkane nitrile is formed by passing a combination of acid and NH3 overheated Alumina.

R-(C=O)-OH  + NH3 ⇢ R-CN + 2H2O

Name Reactions with Carboxylic Acid

There are various name reactions which involve Carboxylic Acids, some of these name reactions are:

  • Kolbe’s Synthesis
  • Hunsdiecker Reaction
  • Hell-Volhard Zelinsky Reaction
  • Simonini Reaction 

Let’s understand these reactions in detail.

Kolbe’s Synthesis 

Alkanes are produced by the electrolysis of fatty acid salts (concentrated aqueous solution).

Kolbe's Synthesis


At Anode: 2RCOO ⇢ R-R + 2CO2 + 2e

At Cathode: 2Na+ + 2e ⇢ 2Na ⇢ 2NaoH + H2 

Radial intermediates are present during the reaction.

Hunsdiecker Reaction 

When monocarboxylic acid’s silver salt is treated with halogen, an alkyl halide is produced.

Hunsdiecker Reaction


Hell-Volhard Zelinsky Reaction

In the presence of a catalyst, a carboxylic acid with an a-hydrogen is treated with CI2 or Br2. Chlorine or bromine atoms substitute for the α-hydrogen.

RCH2COOH{Carboxylic Acid} + Cl2 ⇢ RCHClCOOH{α-Chlorinated Acid} ⇢ RCCl2COOH{α, α-dichloro Acid}

Simonini Reaction 

Simonini Relations refer to the reaction of silver carboxylic acid salts with iodine.

Simonini Reaction


Learn more about, Chemical Reactions of Carboxylic Acids

Uses of Carboxylic Acid 

Carboxylic Acids are one of the most used compounds in organic chemistry. Some of these use cases of Carboxylic Acid are as follows:

Food and Beverage Industry

Carboxylic Acids such as acetic acid, citric acid, lactic acids, etc. are used as food additives for flavouring and preservation. For example, Synthetic white vinegar is a diluted solution of acetic acid, citric acid is used as a flavouring agent in the majority of beverages, and lactic acid is a well-known flavour enhancer.

Pharmaceuticals and Cosmetics

Carboxylic acids are used in the production of pharmaceutical drugs and cosmetic products either as active ingredients, pH adjusters, or preservatives. For instance, salicylic acid is used in acne treatments, and citric acid is used in skincare products for its exfoliating properties.

Polymer Production

Many carboxylic acids are utilized as monomers in the production of various different polymers and plastics. For example, Acrylic and methacrylic acids are used in the production of acrylic polymers, which find applications in paints, adhesives, and textiles.

Detergents and Cleaning Products

Long-chain fatty acids (Which are examples of carboxylic acids) are used in the production of soaps, detergents, and cleaning products.


Carboxylic acids are used in agricultural applications as herbicides, fungicides, and plant growth regulators. For example, acetic acid-based herbicides are used for weed control, and auxin-like carboxylic acids are used to promote plant growth.

Chemical Intermediates

Carboxylic acids serve as important intermediates in the synthesis of various chemicals. They can be used to produce esters, amides, anhydrides, and other derivatives. These derivatives have diverse applications in industries such as pharmaceuticals, perfumes, and plastics.

Textile Industry

Carboxylic acids are used in textile dyeing and printing processes. They act as mordants, which help fix the dyes onto the fabric, improving colour fastness.

Industrial Processes

Carboxylic acids find applications in various industrial processes. For example, formic acid is used in leather tanning, acetic acid is used in the production of vinyl acetate for adhesives, and adipic acid is used in the synthesis of nylon.


The basics of carboxylic acid are summarised below,

Carboxylic Acids Functional Group

The functional group of the carboxylic acid is -COOH

Carboxylic Acids General Formula

The general form of the carboxylic acid is R-COOH

Carboxylic Acids Examples

Various examples of carboxylic acid are, 

  • Formic Acid (HCOOH)
  • Ethanoic or Acetic Acid (CH3COOH)
  • Citric Acid (C6H8O7)
  • Lactic Acid (C3H6O3)
  • Fumaric Acid (C4H4O4)
  • Oxalic Acid (C2H2O4)
  • Stearic Acid (CH3(CH2)16COOH), etc.

Carboxylic Acid Derivatives

The compounds that are derived from the carboxylic acid are called the derivatives of the carboxylic acid. Various derivatives of the carboxylic acid are,

  • Ester
  • Acidic Anhydride
  • Amide
  • Acul halide
  • Thioester, etc

Sample Questions on Carboxylic Acid

Question 1: What carbon compounds make up the carboxylic group?


Carboxylic acids are carbon compounds containing the carboxyl group (–COOH). The carboxyl group is made up of a carbonyl group (>C=O) and a hydroxyl group (−OH).

Question 2: What is an example of aromatic carboxylic acid?

Answer :

The simplest aromatic acid is Benzoic Acid. It is an aromatic acid becase it has a specific aroma.

Question 3: What are the uses of Carboxylic Acid?


Uses of Carboxylic Acid are,

  1. Carboxylic acid has antimicrobial properties.
  2. In textile treatments, the most basic carboxylic acid, “formic acid,” serves as a reducing agent.
  3. Acetic acid, a carboxylic acid, is used to make esters and cellulose plastics.
  4. Soaps, medications, candles, cosmetics, protective coatings, and other products contain palmitic acid and stearic acid.

Question 4: What causes carboxylic acids to be acidic?


The hydrogen in the -COOH group makes the carboxylic acids acidic, according to the definition of an acid they are  “compounds that donate protons (hydrogen ions) to other substances.” In the aqueous solution, carboxylic acid releases hydrogen atoms and thus, it is considered to be acidic.

FAQs on Carboxylic Acid

Q1:  What is Carboxylic Acid?


Carboxylic acids are organic compounds that contain a carboxyl group (-COOH) attached to a carbon atom. They are characterized by their functional group, which consists of a carbonyl group (C=O) and a hydroxyl group (-OH) bonded to the same carbon atom. 

Q2: What are Examples of Carboxylic Acids?


Some examples of carboxylic acids include acetic acid (CH3COOH), formic acid (HCOOH), citric acid (C6H8O7), benzoic acid (C6H5COOH), and butyric acid (CH3CH2CH2COOH). Fatty acids, such as oleic acid and stearic acid, are also carboxylic acids.

Q3: How are Carboxylic Acids Formed?


There are various methods of preparation of Carboxylic acids but the most common way is the oxidation of primary alcohols or aldehydes. For example, the oxidation of ethanol (CH3CH2OH) produces acetic acid (CH3COOH).

Q4: What are the Physical Properties of Carboxylic Acids?


Some of the physical properties of carboxylic acids are:

  • Carboxylic acids can exist as liquids or solids depending on their molecular weight.
  • Carboxylic acids often have strong, pungent odors.
  • Carboxylic acids with a low number of carbon atoms are soluble in water, but solubility decreases with increasing carbon chain length.
  • They have higher boiling points compared to hydrocarbons of similar molecular weight.
  • Carboxylic acids are weak acids, more acidic than alcohols but less acidic than mineral acids.

Q5: What are Uses of Carboxylic Acids?


Some common uses of some carboxylic acids are as follows:

  • Acetic acid is used in the production of vinegar. 
  • Formic acid is utilized in leather tanning and as a preservative. 
  • Citric acid is a common food additive and is used in beverages. 
  • Some carboxylic acids are used in the synthesis of polymers, pharmaceuticals, and fragrances.

Q6: Are Carboxylic Acids Acidic in Nature?


Yes, carboxylic acids are acidic compounds due to the presence of the carboxyl group.

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