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Ethers Physical Properties: Introduction to Ethers, Physical Properties, Uses, Practice Problems & Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Ethers Physical Properties: Introduction to Ethers, Physical Properties, Uses, Practice Problems & Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Do you know which chemical is used in paint as a thickening agent?

Ethers are employed in the dye and paint industries.

Today, cellulose ethers, a type of polymer, are frequently used as thickening agents in the paint industry.


Because cellulose ethers degrade naturally, they are used to colour food and drugs in the pharmaceutical, food, ceramic, and adhesive industries.

The use of glycol ether as a solvent is necessary since spray paints cannot dry in the air. Because they dry slowly, they provide cars with paint that is flawless and smooth.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction to Ethers
  • Physical Properties of Ethers
  • Uses of Ethers
  • Practice Problems
  • Frequently Asked Question(FAQs)

Introduction of Ethers:

An ether is a type of organic chemical that mostly consists of an ether functional group where an oxygen atom is connected to two same or different alkyl or aryl groups or alkyl-aryl groups. Ether derives from the Latin word "ether," which means "to burn." Ethers are typically combustible at ambient temperature and elevated pressure. ROR, ROR', ROAr, or ArOAr are the general formulas for ether. R depicts an alkyl group, whereas Ar depicts an aryl group.

This subject is frequently studied in organic chemistry, and it also appears frequently in biochemistry, where we discover similar connections between lignin and carbohydrates. However, if we examine the ethers' structure, we find that their C-O-C bonds are basically bent.

Ethers can be further categorised into the following types:

  • A simple or symmetrical ether is one in which the alkyl groups are identical on each side of an oxygen atom. On the other hand, ethers are referred to as mixed or unsymmetrical ethers if they are distinct.

Example: CH3-O-CH3 (dimethyl ether) C2H5-O-C2H5 (diethyl ether) are the examples of Symmetrical ethers.

Example: CH3-O-C6H5 (methyl phenyl ether)  C2H5-O-CH3  (ethyl methyl ether) are the examples of Unsymmetrical ethers or mixed ethers.

  • Cyclic ethers are heterocyclic molecules with a saturated ring-containing oxygen atom.
  • Two or three carbon atoms positioned between each of the two, four, or more oxygen atoms in cyclic polyethers, are known as crown ethers.

Physical Properties of Ethers:

The following describes the physical properties of ethers:

Physical state:

Methoxy methane and methoxy ethane are gases, whereas the other ethers are tasteless flammable liquids.

Odour and flammability:

Lower homologues are translucent, fragrant, flammable liquids with distinct ether odour.

Ethers Polar Nature.

The cause of this is the difference in electronegativity between oxygen and carbon atoms. Due to the difference in electronegativity, the oxygen atom pulls the shared electron pair closer to itself, which causes the oxygen atom to possess a partially negative charge and the carbon atom to possess a partially positive charge. In the ether, two polar C-O bonds face one another at an angle of 111.7 degrees. The outcome is a net dipole moment since the two dipoles do not cancel out. In other words, the dipole moment in ether is not equal to zero. Ethers are less polar than alcohols, esters, or amides with similar structures, but more polar than alkenes.

Ethers and Hydrogen Bonding:

In ethers, the hydrogen atom and oxygen atom are not connected directly. Ethers lack hydrogen bonding between molecules as a result. Conversely, hydrogen bonds can only be accepted by ethers. Because oxygen atoms have two lone pairs of electrons, it is possible for them to form hydrogen bonds with water molecules.

Cyclic ethers such as 1,4-dioxane and tetrahydrofuran are highly soluble in water compared to linear aliphatic ethers because the oxygen atom is more accessible for hydrogen bonding.

Ethers Boiling Point:

Ethers' boiling point is lesser compared to that of isomeric alcohols but nearer to that of alkanes of the same mass because they do not establish intramolecular hydrogen bonds. Methoxy methane (CH3 O CH3) has a lower boiling point than ethanol (C2H5OH) despite having the same chemical formula (C2H6O) .

Ethers Solubility:

In water, ethers containing up to three carbon atoms are soluble. This is due to the ease with which weaker ethers can form hydrogen bonds with water molecules. The nonpolar hydrophobic hydrocarbon chain and the polar hydrophilic oxygen end are the two different types of molecules that make up ethers. As the alkyl group size grows, ether becomes less soluble in water. This is because the hydrocarbon component is non-polar, which prevents hydrogen bonds from forming with the polar water molecules. Alcohols, benzene, and acetone are a few examples of organic solvents that are moderately soluble in ethers. For instance, n-butyl alcohol and diethyl ether both have similar water solubility. Because alcohol and ether both connect hydrogen to water in the same way.


Oxygen bonding in water, ethers, and alcohols are identical. The hydrogens alpha to ethers in simple hydrocarbons is more acidic because oxygen has a greater electronegative charge than carbon. Compared to hydrogen's alpha to carbonyl groups (such as in ketones or aldehydes), they are far less acidic.

Uses of Ethers:

  • The most efficient solvents are ethers. In order to sedate patients before surgery, an ether-soaked cloth is used and it is an old practice. Patients can breathe in or administer vapours that are released by flammable liquids called ethers intravenously. Before surgery, they induce patients to lose consciousness. For instance, powerful anaesthetic Diethyl ether is made to act more efficiently by analgesics and muscle relaxants.
  • A solvent that is widely used in labs is diethyl ether. In water, it only slightly dissolves. It is the ideal non-polar solvent for liquid-liquid extraction due to its poor solubility and high volatility.
  • They are also utilised as a reaction medium in various reactions, such as the Wurtz reaction, the creation of Grignard reagent, and their reactions, due to their nearly inert nature and great dissolution power. It also aids in keeping things cold.
  • The cyclic ether tetrahydrofuran (THF) is extensively used as an organic chemical solvent. They are more suited for usage as solvents due to their low boiling points since evaporation makes it straightforward to remove them from a molecule following a chemical reaction.

Practice Problems:

Q1. Among the following, what type of intermolecular forces acts on ethers?

(A) Dipole-Dipole interaction
(B) Ion-induced dipole interactions
(C) London Forces
(D) None of the above

Answer: (A)

Solution: When two ethyl ether molecules are combined, their diametrically opposed partial charges pull them toward one another. This type of intermolecular force, also known as dipole-dipole interaction or dipole-dipole attraction, occurs in polar molecules that contain dipoles.

Q2. The epoxide is a cyclic ether having a-

(A) Three membered ring
(B) Four membered ring
(C) Five membered ring
(D) Six membered ring

Answer: (A)

Solution: Epoxide is a three-membered ring cyclic ether. An oxygen atom is connected to two neighbouring carbon atoms of a hydrocarbon in the basic structure of an epoxide. A typical acyclic ether is substantially less reactive than an epoxide due to the strain of the three-membered ring.

Q3. Why does ether have higher volatility than alcohol with the same chemical structure?

(A) Due to ether dipolar character
(B) intermolecular hydrogen bonding
(C) intramolecular hydrogen bonding
(D) Due to alcohols resonance structures

Answer: (B)

Solution: With the same molecular formula, an ether is more volatile than alcohol. This is owing to the fact that alcohols have intermolecular hydrogen bonds. The H atom is linked to the electronegative oxygen atom in alcohols. As a result, the H atom of one alcohol molecule's OH group forms a hydrogen connection with the oxygen atom of the second alcohol molecule's OH group. Intermolecular association consequently takes place. Alcohol's volatility is reduced while its boiling point is raised. Since the hydrogen atom in ethers is not joined to an electronegative oxygen atom, ethers do not permit intermolecular hydrogen bonding.

Q4. Which of the following, results from the exposure of ether to the atmosphere?

(A) Oxide
(B) Alkene
(C) Alkane
(D) Peroxide

Answer: (D)

Solution: When exposed to sunny weather, ether reacts vigorously with the oxygen in the air to produce peroxide. Peroxide ignites when heated, which might result in a serious accident. Ether is held in a bottle with iron wire to prevent it from converting into peroxide, and iron oxide is created when oxygen reacts with iron. As a result, ether is stored in a container along with the iron wire.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs):

Q1. What are cyclic ethers?
Heterocyclic substances called cyclic ethers have an oxygen atom as part of the ring formation.. The prefix "ox" is followed by the suffixes "irane," "etane," "olane," and "ane" in the IUPAC nomenclature for cyclic ethers to denote the number of carbon atoms in the three-, four-, five-, and six-membered ring systems, respectively. Many cyclic ethers have popular names and are often employed as solvents due to their inert nature. In biological compounds like sugars and DNA, these ring shapes are typical. The rings are arranged so that oxygen is at the place one.

Q2. Do people still use ether today as an anaesthetic?
As medicine advanced, the use of ether as an anaesthetic has been prohibited due to its lethal side effects. They are used in some laboratory tasks as well as in medical applications in some countries because of their low cost.

Q3. Why are ethers inert chemically?
Most chemicals, especially bases and alkali metals, have no chemical reaction with ethers. When they react with mineral acids and Lewis acids, they produce oxonium compounds due to their weak basicity, which is caused by the existence of unbonded electron pairs on the oxygen atom. As opposed to alcohol, which has an activated O-H bond, ether has both of its oxygen atoms connected to an alkyl group, making it more resistant to attack. As a result, it is less reactive than alcohol but still interacts with a variety of reagents.

Q4. What are Crown Ethers?
Crown ethers are cyclic polyethers that have two or three carbon atoms between each of their two or four or more oxygen atoms. Crown ethers are named using both the number of oxygen atoms in the ring and the generic formula of (OCH2CH2)n or (OCH2CH2CH2)n. The 18-membered ring with six oxygen atoms is called 18-crown-6. A K+ like alkali metal ion may fit into the central cavity of all crown ethers, which is lined with oxygen atoms. The lone pairs of electrons on the oxygen atoms in the vicinity interact with the cation to stabilise it.


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