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Non-carbon organic compounds

  1. Aug 26, 2010 #1
    Are there any compounds that are considered "organic," yet do not contain carbon?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2010 #2


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    Nope. By definition organic compounds are carbon compounds. Although not all carbon compounds are considered organic. (e.g. carbides and carbon oxides)
  4. Aug 26, 2010 #3
    So how does one determine which carbon compounds are organic? What makes carbides and carbon oxides organic?
  5. Aug 26, 2010 #4


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    (Welcome to PF by the way..)

    No, I meant carbides and carbon oxides as examples of carbon compounds that are considered inorganic.
    The distinction is arbitrary and has no actual physical meaning, it's basically just tradition.
    The general definition is that all carbon compounds are organic, with a few exceptions such as carbon oxides, carbonic acid, carbides, and (often) urea.

    The history here is the old 'vitalism' debate from the early 19th century, when it was believed that the molecules of living things (i.e. 'organic molecules') were somehow fundamentally different from other ones, and that 'organic' matter could not be produced from 'inorganic' matter. We now know these ideas have no merit. This is usually dated to when Wöhler (1828) managed to synthesize urea from inorganic substances. Urea was back then considered 'organic' within vitalist theory, as a substance produced by living things. So Wöhler was the first to show that 'organic' substances were indeed not fundamentally different. (Although, as I said, in modern nomenclature urea isn't usually considered 'organic' anymore.) Of course, now we know that all the carbon in living things actually comes ultimately from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere via photosynthesis. (and CO2 was always considered inorganic) So really, all organic substances come from 'inorganic' ones.

    The distinction today is mostly upheld because organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry are different fields with rather different focuses.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2010
  6. Aug 26, 2010 #5
    Sorry for the typo. I understood that you meant inorganic in the first reply.

    Thanks for the well written response. This makes a lot more sense now. It definitely helps to know the history. I just have one more question about this. I know organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon, so in the study of organic chemistry does that include those carbon compounds that are considered "inorganic"? Or would those fall under the study of inorganic chemistry?
  7. Aug 26, 2010 #6


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    It's more about what aspects you're studying and how, than it is about which compounds. For instance, if you're studying decarboxylation reactions, which typically produce CO2, then that's typical organic chemistry, even if CO2 is an inorganic molecule. If you're studying the properties of metal ions bound to organic complexes (metallorganic chemistry), that's still typically under the umbrella of inorganic chemistry.

    Organic chemistry tends to focus on synthesizing and studying the properties of new organic substances, and finding new methods of synthesis. Inorganic chemistry is often focused on studying details of relatively well-known substances. You could say that from biochemistry to organic chemistry to inorganic chemistry, you deal with increasingly simple molecules, but studied in increasingly great detail.
  8. Aug 26, 2010 #7


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    The first paragraphs of organic compound and inorganic compound on Wiki go into this a little.
  9. Aug 26, 2010 #8
    Very helpful and interesting explanations. Thank you very much for your time.
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