13.3.5 Properties

Physical properties

Alkenes as a class resemble alkanes in physical properties, except in types of isomerism and difference in polar nature. The first three members are gases, the next fourteen are liquids and the higher ones are solids. Ethene is a colourless gas with a faint sweet smell. All other alkenes are colourless and odourless, insoluble in water but fairly soluble in nonpolar solvents like benzene, petroleum ether. They show a regular increase in boiling point with increase in size i.e., every – CH2 group added increases boiling point by 20–30 K. Like alkanes, straight chain alkenes have higher boiling point than isomeric branched chain compounds.

Chemical properties

Alkenes are the rich source of loosely held pi (π) electrons, due to which they show addition reactions in which the electrophiles add on to the carbon-carbon double bond to form the addition products. Some reagents also add by free radical mechanism.

There are cases when under special conditions, alkenes also undergo free radical substitution reactions. Oxidation and ozonolysis reactions are also quite prominent in alkenes. A brief description of different reactions of alkenes is given below:

1. Addition of dihydrogen: Alkenes add up one molecule of dihydrogen gas in the presence of finely divided nickel, palladium or platinum to form alkanes

2. Addition of halogens : Halogens like bromine or chlorine add up to alkene to form vicinal dihalides. However, iodine does not show addition reaction under normal conditions. The reddish orange colour of bromine solution in carbon tetrachloride is discharged when bromine adds up to an unsaturation site.

This reaction is used as a test for unsaturation. Addition of halogens to alkenes is an example of electrophilic addition reaction involving cyclic halonium ion formation which you will study in higher classes.

3. Addition of hydrogen halides: Hydrogen halides (HCl, HBr,HI) add up to alkenes to form alkyl halides. The order of reactivity of the hydrogen halides is HI > HBr > HCl.

Like addition of halogens to alkenes, addition of hydrogen halides is also an example of electrophilic addition reaction. Let us illustrate this by taking addition of HBr to symmetrical and unsymmetrical alkenes.

Addition reaction of HBr to symmetrical alkenes

Addition reactions of HBr to symmetrical alkenes (similar groups attached to double bond) take place by electrophilic addition mechanism.

Addition reaction of HBr to unsymmetrical alkenes (Markovnikov Rule)

How will H – Br add to propene ? The two possible products are I and II.

Markovnikov, a Russian chemist made a generalisation in 1869 after studying such reactions in detail. These generalisations led Markovnikov to frame a rule called Markovnikov rule. The rule states that negative part of the addendum (adding molecule) gets attached to that carbon atom which possesses lesser number of hydrogen atoms.

Thus according to this rule, product I i.e., 2-bromopropane is expected. In actual practice, this is the principal product of the reaction. This generalisation of Markovnikov rule can be better understood in terms of mechanism of the reaction.


Hydrogen bromide provides an electrophile, H+, which attacks the double bond to form carbocation as shown below:

(i) The secondary carbocation (b) is more stable than the primary carbocation (a), therefore, the former predominates because it is formed at a faster rate.

(ii) The carbocation (b) is attacked by Br– ion to form the product as follows:

Anti Markovnikov addition or peroxide effect or Kharash effect

In the presence of peroxide, addition of HBr to unsymmetrical alkenes like propene takes place contrary to the Markovnikov rule. This happens only with HBr but not with HCl and Hl.

This addition reaction was observed by M.S. Kharash and F.R. Mayo in 1933 at the University of Chicago. This reaction is known as peroxide or Kharash effect or addition reaction anti to Markovnikov rule.

Mechanism : Peroxide effect proceeds via free radical chain mechanism as given below:

The secondary free radical obtained in the above mechanism (step iii) is more stable than the primary. This explains the formation of 1-bromopropane as the major product. It may be noted that the peroxide effect is not observed in addition of HCl and HI.

This may be due to the fact that the H–Cl bond being stronger (430.5 kJ mol–1) than H–Br bond (363.7 kJ mol–1), is not cleaved by the free radical, whereas the H–I bond is weaker (296.8 kJ mol–1) and iodine free radicals combine to form iodine molecules instead of adding to the double bond.

4. Addition of sulphuric acid : Cold concentrated sulphuric acid adds to alkenes in accordance with Markovnikov rule to form alkyl hydrogen sulphate by the electrophilic addition reaction.

5. Addition of water : In the presence of a few drops of concentrated sulphuric acid alkenes react with water to form alcohols, in accordance with the Markovnikov rule.

6. Oxidation: Alkenes on reaction with cold, dilute, aqueous solution of potassium permanganate (Baeyer’s reagent) produce vicinal glycols. Decolorisation of KMnO4 solution is used as a test for unsaturation.

b) Acidic potassium permanganate or acidic potassium dichromate oxidises alkenes to ketones and/or acids depending upon the nature of the alkene and the experimental conditions

7. Ozonolysis : Ozonolysis of alkenes involves the addition of ozone molecule to alkene to form ozonide, and then cleavage of the ozonide by Zn-H2O to smaller molecules. This reaction is highly useful in detecting the position of the double bond in alkenes or other unsaturated compounds.

8. Polymerisation: You are familiar with polythene bags and polythene sheets. Polythene is obtained by the combination of large number of ethene molecules at high temperature, high pressure and in the presence of a catalyst.

The large molecules thus obtained are called polymers. This reaction is known as polymerisation. The simple compounds from which polymers are made are called monomers. Other alkenes also undergo polymerisation.

Polymers are used for the manufacture of plastic bags, squeeze bottles, refrigerator dishes, toys, pipes, radio and T .V. cabinets etc.

Polypropene is used for the manufacture of milk crates, plastic buckets and other moulded articles. Though these materials have now become common, excessive use of polythene and polypropylene is a matter of great concern for all of us.

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