Organic Chemistry: The 7 Functional Groups

Organic chemistry includes types of chemicals known as organic chemicals. It’s important to know their properties and different functional groups. All of these chemicals have carbon-based atoms.

Organic Chemistry

How familiar are you with organic chemistry and its functional groups? These chemicals all include carbon-based atoms. The term carbon was proposed in 1789 and is based on the Latin word that means “charcoal.” It’s important to know the basics of organic chemistry including the location, properties, and groups of organic chemicals. It’s all really technical stuff but can help to better understand the different carbon-based chemicals that make up organic chemistry. Today nearly one-third of all store-bought food in US households is organic. Due to the growing demand for such products, it’s a plus to know what the term found in “certified organic” is all about.  

Carbon atoms are found in all organic chemicals. This element exists in more forms than all other elements in the natural world. So when we talk about organic chemistry it’s critical to take a closer look at carbon. We often hear terms like “carbonated water,” “carbon dating,” and “carbon dioxide.” What are these terms all about in terms of the element found in them? It also might be confusing because carbon is the building block of all life on planet Earth, yet CO2 emissions refer to the air pollution produced by vehicles and factories. So it seems it can be a good or bad thing.

What Exactly Is Carbon?

Organic chemicals all include carbon-based molecules so it’s important to talk about the element first. This is a critical one for different reasons. It’s the fourth most common element in the universe. It also has the most forms among all elements.

There are also 10+ million chemical compounds that have carbon. This is the highest figure among all elements. The next element is hydrogen and is found in just a small percentage of that figure.

Carbon is found in a wide range of different forms. They include pure forms like soot, coal, and diamonds. Many other forms of carbon are being studied, which could result in new fields of study.

Another feature of protein is it exists in all living things. That includes carbs, proteins, fats, sugars, and starches. So there’s carbon in the three macronutrients that humans must consume for proper body function.

Humans have known about carbon long before it was added to the periodic table that lists all known elements. For example, when cavemen produced fire they saw black smoke. This was caused by tiny pieces of carbon that weren’t burned. The black smoke settled on cave ceilings as soot.

Another example of carbon use was observed after the invention of lamps. When toil burns in lamps this results in carbon being released. This results in soot inside the lamp. This kind of carbon is called “lampblack.” The ink was then produced by combining the lampblack with stuff like olive oil.

Charcoal is another common kind of carbon. Fun Fact: The ancient Romans made charcoal as early as 509 BC.

This is produced by heating wood without air. This prevents it from catching fire since oxygen would be required. What happens is the heated wood releases water vapor, which results in pure carbon. It became an official element in 1787.  

 What Is Organic Chemical?

All organic chemicals include molecules with carbon-based atoms connected to hydrogen atoms. These atoms are also connected to other elements from various functional groups like oxygen and nitrogen.

In most cases, organic chemicals are bonded through atoms that share electrons. These are the negative-charged particles that move around the atom’s nucleus. This feature shows why organic chemicals can have structures of different long chains/rings. They also make bonds.

Another feature of organic chemicals is they exist naturally in the world. However, there’s a wide range of different combinations. These chemicals are found in all living things on earth and make up most body functions.

Chemical compounds also make up several chemical reactions. This is important for different functions like making different consumer products.  

Today organic chemistry involves a lot more than just chemical reactions of living things. However, it started as a basic field of study. It’s interesting that until the mid-1800s scientists thought organic compound’s “vital force” couldn’t get copied from lifeless stuff.

This idea started to change. In 1828 scientists made the first organic chemical using non-organic stuff. Then the pharmaceutical industry launched during the 1890s. This resulted from the German drug company Bayer using acid to make aspirin.

Today organic compounds are usually grouped as either synthetic or natural. However, there are also smaller groups. Living organisms like plants and animals make organic compounds. This includes items like carbs, fats, enzymes, and vitamins.

Chemical reactions make synthetic organic compounds. This is true whether or not the original material was natural or not natural. There are also human-made materials like minerals and plastics.

Interestingly, inorganic material makes up most of the Earth. That’s because organic chemicals are in every living thing. One example is the Earth’s crust, which is mostly made of oxides. There are many other inorganic compounds in nature that are carbon-based.

What Are Organic Chemistry’s Functional Groups

What are they all about? These are groups of atoms that connect outside carbon atoms of organic molecules. There are also certain properties. Each kind of organic molecule has a particular kind of group.

They’re critical in making molecules like proteins, carbohydrates, DNA, and other stuff. Here are the different functional groups:

  • Amino
  • Carbonyl
  • Carboxyl
  • Hydroxyl
  • Methyl
  • Phosphate
  • Sulfhydryl

Here are some key features of the groups:


The groups of atoms exist in organic molecules and give certain chemical properties to the molecules. When these groups are listed the organic molecule is sometimes shown with an “R.”

One key term to know about is “macromolecules.” These are made by rings/chains of different carbon atoms. Sometimes there’s also another element like oxygen or nitrogen. There are 4 kinds of macromolecules including carbs and proteins. They have different functional groups related to living organisms’ form and function.


These groups can work in different chemical reactions. The groups are critical in forming molecules including carbohydrates, proteins, and DNA.

In most cases, functional groups are put into two main classes. This is based on factors like a positive or negative charge. There are certain groups like those found in fatty acids, amino acids, etc. This is related to different issues like the molecule they’re attached to.

Other groups have a partly negative oxygen atom. This can affect which of the two main groups the molecule is included in.

This is all technical stuff. The main takeaway is that there are multiple groups of organic chemistry. It’s critical to know the basics about them to fully understand what organic chemistry is all about.

This is all related to issues like organic and inorganic stuff in the world. It also helps to explain why carbon exists in all living things but can also be linked to unhealthy chemical compounds that include functional groups.

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