Understanding Hydroxyl Groups: A Basic Guide

Hydroxyl groups are functional groups commonly found in organic molecules, including alcohols, sugars, and carboxylic acids. They are composed of an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom, which are covalently bonded to a carbon atom. In this article, we will discuss the basic things you need to know about hydroxyl groups.

Structure and Properties

The hydroxyl group is represented by the chemical formula -OH. It is a polar group that exhibits hydrogen bonding, making it highly soluble in water. The hydrogen bonding between hydroxyl groups is responsible for the high boiling points and melting points of many molecules that contain them. Hydroxyl groups also make molecules more acidic by stabilizing the conjugate base.


Hydroxyl groups are highly reactive, and their presence can significantly affect the properties of the molecules they are a part of. For instance, the presence of hydroxyl groups in alcohols increases their reactivity in oxidation reactions. This is because the hydroxyl group can be easily oxidized to form a carbonyl group. The presence of hydroxyl groups in carboxylic acids makes them acidic, allowing them to undergo various acid-base reactions.

Hydroxyl groups can also react with other functional groups. For instance, they can react with isocyanates to form urethanes, and with epoxides to form diols. The presence of hydroxyl groups in carbohydrates allows them to participate in glycosidic bond formation, which is important for energy storage and structural purposes.


Hydroxyl groups are essential functional groups that play crucial roles in various biological and chemical processes. They are found in many biomolecules, such as carbohydrates, amino acids, and nucleic acids. For instance, the hydroxyl group in ribose and deoxyribose sugars is important for the formation of nucleotides, which are the building blocks of DNA and RNA. Hydroxyl groups are also essential for the activity of enzymes, which are biological catalysts that help in various chemical reactions.

In conclusion, hydroxyl groups are vital functional groups that are found in many organic molecules. Their polar nature, hydrogen bonding, and reactivity make them important in various chemical and biological processes. Understanding the basic properties and reactivity of hydroxyl groups is essential for anyone interested in organic chemistry, biochemistry, or chemical biology.

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