Electrophilic aromatic directing groups
In organic chemistry, an electron donating group (EDG) or electron releasing group (ERG) is an atom or functional group that donates some of its electron density into a conjugated π system via resonance or inductive electron withdrawal, thus making the π system more nucleophilic. When attached to a benzene molecule, an electron donating group makes it more likely to participate in electrophilic substitution reactions. Benzene itself will normally undergo substitutions by electrophiles, but additional substituents can alter the reaction rate or products by electronically or sterically affecting the interaction of the two reactants. EDGs are often known as activating groups.
An electron withdrawing group (EWG) will have the opposite effect on nucleophilicity as an EDG, as it removes electron density from a π system, making the π system more electrophilic. When attached to a benzene molecule an electron withdrawing group makes electrophilic aromatic substitution reactions slower and more complex, and EWGs are often called deactivating groups. Depending on their relative strengths, EWGs also determine the positions (relative to themselves) on the benzene ring where substitutions must take place; this property is therefore important in processes of organic synthesis.
Electron donating groups are generally ortho/para directors for electrophilic aromatic substitutions, while electron withdrawing groups are generally meta directors with the exception of the halogens which are also ortho/para directors as they have lone pairs of electrons that are shared with the aromatic ring.
Electron donating groups are typically divided into three levels of activating ability. Electron withdrawing groups are assigned to similar groupings. Activating substituents favor electrophilic substitution about the ortho and para positions. Weakly deactivating groups direct electrophiles to attack the benzene molecule at the ortho- and para- positions, while strongly and moderately deactivating groups direct attacks to the meta- position. This is not a case of favoring the meta- position like para- and ortho- directing functional groups, but rather disfavoring the para- and ortho- positions more than they disfavor the meta- position.
Strongly activating groups (electron donating)
R = alkyl
Moderately activating groups
Weakly activating groups
Weakly deactivating groups
Halides are ortho- para- directing groups but unlike most ortho- para- directors halides tend to deactivate benzene. This unusual behavior can be explained by two properties:
- Since the halogens are very electronegative they cause inductive withdrawal (withdrawal of electrons from the carbon atom of benzene).
- Since the halogens have non-bonding electrons they can donate electron density through pi bonding (resonance donation).
The inductive and resonance properties compete with each other but the inductive dominates and halogens as a result become deactivating ortho para directors. Fluorine directs strongly to the para position (86%) while Iodine directs to ortho and para (45% and 54% respectively).
Moderately deactivating groups
Strongly deactivating groups (electron withdrawing)
- -CF3, CCl3, trihalides
- -C≡N, cyano groups
- -SO3H, sulfonates
- -NH3+ amonium
- -NR3+ quaternary amine or quaternary ammonium base
- -NO2, nitro groups
While steric effects are a consideration, the major contribution of EWGs is achieved by utilizing the nature of conjugated systems (specifically the ease through which mesomeric effects travel through such systems) to create regions of positive charge within the resonance contributors. For example, in nitrobenzene the resonance structures have positive charges around the ring system:
The resulting resonance hybrid, now possessing δ+ charges in the ortho- and para- positions repels approaching electrophiles increasing the relative success of attack in the meta position.
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