Addition reactions are limited to chemical compounds that have multiple bonds, such as molecules with carbon-carbon double bonds (alkenes), or with triple bonds (alkynes). Molecules containing carbon—hetero double bonds like carbonyl (C=O) groups, or imine (C=N) groups, can undergo addition as they too have double bond character.
There are two main types of polar addition reactions: electrophilic addition and nucleophilic addition. Two non-polar addition reaction exists as well called free radical addition and cycloadditions. Addition reactions are also encountered in polymerizations and called addition polymerization. Based on the number of lines and their slopes obtained by plotting alkene ionization potentials versus logs of their relative rates of additions, Donna Nelson and her students have identified patterns in alkene addition reactions and in their mechanisms.
In the related addition-elimination reaction an addition reaction is followed by an elimination reaction. In the majority of reactions it involves addition of nucleophiles to carbonyl compounds in what is called nucleophilic acyl substitution.
Other addition-elimination reactions are the reaction of an aliphatic amine to an imine and an aromatic amine to a Schiff base in alkylimino-de-oxo-bisubstitution. The hydrolysis of nitriles to carboxylic acids is also a form of addition-elimination.
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