Isobutyl vs. Tert-Butyl

What's the Difference?

Isobutyl and tert-butyl are both alkyl groups that contain four carbon atoms. However, they differ in their structural arrangement. Isobutyl has a linear structure, with the four carbon atoms arranged in a straight line. On the other hand, tert-butyl has a branched structure, with three carbon atoms forming a branch and the fourth carbon atom attached to the branch. This branching gives tert-butyl a more compact and sterically hindered structure compared to isobutyl. Consequently, tert-butyl is more stable and less reactive than isobutyl due to the reduced steric strain caused by the branching.


Chemical FormulaC4H10C4H10
Common NameIsobutylTert-Butyl
IUPAC Name2-Methylpropyl1,1-Dimethylethyl
Functional GroupAlkylAlkyl
Number of Carbon Atoms44
Number of Hydrogen Atoms1010
Isomer TypePrimaryTertiary
Boiling Point (°C)-6.350.5
Melting Point (°C)-159.5-135.3

Further Detail


Isobutyl and tert-butyl are two common alkyl groups that are frequently encountered in organic chemistry. These groups play a significant role in various chemical reactions and are often used as building blocks in the synthesis of complex organic compounds. While both isobutyl and tert-butyl share some similarities, they also possess distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore and compare the properties, reactivity, and applications of isobutyl and tert-butyl.


Isobutyl, also known as 2-methylpropyl, is an alkyl group with the chemical formula C4H9. It consists of a branched chain of four carbon atoms, with a methyl group attached to the second carbon. On the other hand, tert-butyl, also called 2-methyl-2-propanyl, is an alkyl group with the chemical formula (CH3)3C. It is a tertiary carbon atom bonded to three methyl groups. One notable difference between the two is the presence of a quaternary carbon in tert-butyl, which gives it a more sterically hindered structure compared to isobutyl.

In terms of physical properties, both isobutyl and tert-butyl are colorless liquids at room temperature. Isobutyl has a boiling point of approximately 107°C, while tert-butyl has a lower boiling point of around 50°C. This difference can be attributed to the increased steric hindrance in tert-butyl, which reduces intermolecular forces and makes it easier for the molecules to escape into the gas phase.

Another important property to consider is the solubility of these alkyl groups. Isobutyl is moderately soluble in water, while tert-butyl is practically insoluble. This disparity arises from the increased hydrophobicity of tert-butyl due to its bulky structure. However, both isobutyl and tert-butyl are highly soluble in organic solvents such as ethanol, acetone, and diethyl ether.


When it comes to reactivity, isobutyl and tert-butyl exhibit some similarities but also display distinct behaviors. Isobutyl is relatively more reactive than tert-butyl due to the presence of a primary carbon atom in its structure. Primary carbon atoms are more susceptible to nucleophilic attacks and undergo substitution reactions more readily. Isobutyl can undergo reactions such as halogenation, oxidation, and nucleophilic substitution.

Tert-butyl, on the other hand, is less reactive due to the presence of a tertiary carbon atom. Tertiary carbon atoms are highly hindered, making it difficult for nucleophiles to approach and react with them. This steric hindrance provides tert-butyl with increased stability and resistance to substitution reactions. However, tert-butyl can still participate in certain reactions, such as elimination reactions, where the bulky tert-butyl group can act as a leaving group.

Both isobutyl and tert-butyl can act as alkylating agents, donating their alkyl groups to other molecules. This property makes them valuable in organic synthesis, where they can be used to introduce specific alkyl groups into target compounds. Additionally, both isobutyl and tert-butyl can undergo oxidation reactions to form the corresponding alcohols.


The unique attributes of isobutyl and tert-butyl make them useful in various applications across different industries. Isobutyl is commonly employed as a solvent in the production of coatings, adhesives, and sealants. It is also utilized as a fuel additive to improve the octane rating of gasoline. Furthermore, isobutyl is a key component in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, flavors, and fragrances.

Tert-butyl, with its highly hindered structure, finds applications in the field of organic chemistry. It is often used as a protecting group for alcohols and amines, preventing unwanted reactions during synthetic processes. Tert-butyl groups can be easily removed under specific conditions, allowing for the selective modification of target molecules. Additionally, tert-butyl is employed as a stabilizer in the production of polymers, preventing degradation and extending their shelf life.

Both isobutyl and tert-butyl are also utilized in the production of various industrial chemicals. Isobutyl is a precursor for the synthesis of isobutylene, which is used in the production of rubber, plastics, and antioxidants. Tert-butyl is employed in the manufacturing of tert-butyl hydroperoxide, a versatile oxidizing agent used in organic synthesis.


In conclusion, isobutyl and tert-butyl are two alkyl groups that possess both similarities and differences in their properties, reactivity, and applications. Isobutyl, with its primary carbon atom, exhibits higher reactivity and is commonly used as a solvent, fuel additive, and building block in organic synthesis. Tert-butyl, on the other hand, is less reactive due to its tertiary carbon atom and finds applications as a protecting group, stabilizer, and precursor for various industrial chemicals. Understanding the attributes of isobutyl and tert-butyl allows chemists to utilize them effectively in a wide range of chemical reactions and applications.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.