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A nitrile is a compound characterized by a cyano group (-CN). This functional group consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom, imparting distinct chemical properties to these compounds. [1-4]



The structural representation of a nitrile showcases the carbon atom triple-bonded to the nitrogen atom (-C≡N). This arrangement leads to a linear geometry within the molecule, with a linear bond angle around the carbon-nitrogen triple bond. This triple bond renders nitrile highly polarized, with the carbon atom exhibiting a partial positive charge and the nitrogen atom displaying a partial negative charge. This polarization influences their reactivity and interaction with other molecules. [1-5]

Nitrile’s planar geometry contributes to its stability and facilitates various chemical reactions, making it a versatile intermediate in organic synthesis. The presence of the cyano group allows for diverse interactions, including hydrogen bonding and coordination with metal ions.


The synthesis of nitriles involves various methodologies, each offering distinct pathways to form essential organic compounds. [1-5]

Alkylation of Cyanide Salt

Alkylation of cyanide salt is one of the fundamental routes for nitrile production. This process typically involves the reaction of a cyanide salt, often potassium cyanide (KCN) or sodium cyanide (NaCN), with an alkyl halide under appropriate conditions. The alkyl group from the halide displaces the cyanide ion, forming the corresponding alkyl nitrile.

Cyanohydrin Formation

Cyanohydrin formation represents another significant pathway to synthesize nitriles. This process involves the addition of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) or a cyanide ion to a carbonyl compound, typically an aldehyde or ketone, forming a cyanohydrin intermediate. The subsequent dehydration of this intermediate leads to the liberation of water and the formation of the nitrile functionality.

Amide Dehydration

Amide dehydration presents an alternative method for nitrile synthesis. This process involves the dehydration of primary amides to produce nitriles. Under appropriate conditions, such as high temperatures and suitable dehydrating agents or catalysts, primary amides undergo elimination reactions, where the carbonyl oxygen and the amino group are eliminated as water, leaving behind the nitrile functionality.

Nitrile Synthesis

Nitrile Reactions

Here are some reactions involving nitrile: [1-5]

Nitrile Reactions


Hydrolysis of nitrile involves the cleavage of the carbon-nitrogen triple bond (-C≡N) by water, forming carboxylic acids or their salt. This reaction typically requires a strong acid or base catalyst to facilitate the process. Under acidic conditions, the nitrile is protonated, making it more susceptible to nucleophilic attack by water molecules. The intermediate unstable iminium ion undergoes further hydrolysis to yield a carboxylic acid. In basic conditions, hydroxide ions attack the nitrile, leading to the formation of the carboxylate ion.


The process initiates by protonating the nitrile, facilitating the attachment of the comparatively less nucleophilic water molecule to the C-N triple bond. Upon the interaction between water and the carbon within the nitrile, a proton is transferred alongside resonance, creating a protonated amide. Water, functioning as a feeble base, deprives the carbonyl of a proton, generating an amide while restoring the hydronium catalyst. Subsequent hydrolysis transforms the amide into the carboxylic acid. The nitrogen within the nitrile is displaced as a leaving entity, ultimately forming ammonium (NH4+).

Hydrolysis of Nitriles


Nitriles can be reduced to primary amines through various reduction methods. One typical reduction involves reducing agents like lithium aluminum hydride (LiAlH4) or hydrogen gas (in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel or platinum). During reduction, the carbon-nitrogen triple bond is converted into a single bond, forming primary amines.

Reaction with Organometallic Reagents

Organometallic reagents like Grignard reagents comprise an alkyl or aryl group bonded to a magnesium halide. It is a nucleophilic addition and involves adding Grignard reagent to the carbon atom of the nitrile group, resulting in the formation of a new carbon-carbon bond. When reacted with a nitrile, the carbon atom of the nitrile’s triple bond, being electron deficient, attracts the electron-rich nature of the organometallic compound. It leads to the addition of the alkyl or aryl group from the Grignard reagent to the nitrile’s carbon, forming an imine intermediate, which eventually undergoes hydrolysis or further reactions to yield a variety of functionalized compounds.

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