Basic Organic Nomenclature

An Introduction

Dave Woodcock,
Associate Professor Emeritus UBC (Okanagan)
©1996,2000, 2008

2. Alkanes
I. Unbranched


Family name: suffix: -ane

As previously noted, a carbon atom in a molecule forms 4 bonds to other atoms. In this family of compounds all bonds are single (2 electron) bonds and each carbon is bonded 4 times to either other carbons or to hydrogens.
Since atoms with 4 bonds and no lone pairs have a tetrahedral geometry, each carbon atom in an alkane is tetrahedrally substituted.

The simplest member of the alkane family has one carbon bonded to four hydrogens. The name of this compound (CH4) is obtained by putting together the root name for one carbon (meth) and the family name (-ane) to give methane.

Other simple family members can be obtained by linking a number of carbons together in a chain and completing the valence of carbon (4) by adding hydrogens.

The formulae and names for some of these compounds are shown in the table:


Names of some alkanes in the IUPAC nomenclature system.

Number of
Carbon Atoms
in Chain
FormulaLine Drawing Alkane NameModel
3C3H8 propane
4C4H10 butane
5C5H12 pentane
6C6H14 hexane
7C7H16 heptane
8C8H18 octane
9C9H20 nonane
10C10H22 decane
To help with your review of these simple alkanes a page with the line drawings and either the names or the formulae attached is available by clicking appropriately.

Note that line structures/drawings are a quick and easy way of representing organic molecules and you should become familiar with drawing them.

Self-study questions
Next page: Branched Alkanes


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