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Difference Between Alcohol and Phenol

Last updated date: 17th Apr 2024
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Difference Between Alcohol and Phenol - Explanation

Alcohol is the most common organic compound and an abundant chemical produced in the industry. It can also be said that alcoholic organic compounds are characterized by the presence of either one, two, or more hydroxyl groups (-OH) attached to the carbon atom of an alkyl group or hydrocarbon chain.

Alcohol is an organic compound where the molecules consist of one or more groups of hydroxyl. Besides, these are attached to a carbon atom. Alcohol is usually categorized as primary, secondary, and tertiary types. Such classification is generally done depending on which carbon of the alkyl is bonded to the hydroxyl group.

Characteristics of Alcohol

A famous alcohol characteristic is that they undergo oxidation readily.

In view of categories, primary alcohols oxidize to form aldehydes, and again aldehydes oxidize for producing carboxylic acids. Secondary alcohols only can oxidize once, resulting in ketones. Finally, the tertiary alcohols cannot be oxidized at all without breaking the carbon-carbon bonds.

Physical Properties of Alcohol

The presence of the hydroxyl group is the primary factor in determining the properties of Alcohol.

Few of the prominent physical properties include:

  • Boiling Point

Compared to other hydrocarbons, alcohols generally have higher boiling points. This can be associated with the presence of intermolecular hydrogen bonding between the hydroxyl groups of alcohol molecules.

  • Solubility of Alcohols

The hydroxyl group determines the solubility of alcohols. Hydroxyl group of Alcohol participates in the formation of intermolecular hydrogen bonding. So that hydrogen bonds between Alcohol and water make it soluble in water.

  • Acidity

Alcohols react with active metals like sodium and potassium and form the respective alkoxide. These reactions indicate their acidic nature, and this nature is due to the polarity of -OH bond. It is also said that the acidity of alcohol decreases when an electron-donating group is associated with the hydroxyl group.

What is Phenol?

Phenol is also a type of alcohol where the hydroxyl group is bound to an atomic ring. It is an exclusion to the rule that the hydroxyl group must be bounded to a saturated carbon. Phenol and its chemical derivatives are the primary ingredients for other compounds such as nylon, detergents, herbs, and pharmaceuticals.

Although phenols are more acidic compared to alcohols, we can say that phenols are considered as a subset of alcohol. And, it’s a fact that both alcohol and phenols contain a hydroxyl group. Phenols can also be named as carbolic acids. They also exhibit unique physical and chemical properties, mainly due to the presence of hydroxyl groups.

Physical Properties of Phenol

Let us discuss some of the physical properties of Phenol.

  • The Boiling Point of Phenols

Phenols also have higher boiling points compared to other hydrocarbons with equal molecular weight. The reason behind this is because of the intermolecular hydrogen bonding presence between hydroxyl groups of phenol molecules.

  • Solubility of Phenols

As the hydroxyl group determines the solubility of Phenol in water, and Phenol is completely responsible for the formation of intermolecular hydrogen bonding. As a result, hydrogen bonds form between water and phenol molecules making Phenol soluble in water.

  • Acidity

Phenols also react with the same active metals like potassium and sodium, resulting in the corresponding phenoxide. These reactions indicate phenols acidic in nature, the sp2 hybridized carbon of the benzene ring attached directly to the hydroxyl group acting as an electron-withdrawing group.

Now, we’ve learned many things about alcohol and phenol. Let’s look into the factors that differentiate these two chemical compounds.

Differences between Alcohol and Phenol



It is an organic compound where the molecule consists of one or more hydroxyl groups. 

Phenol is a compound consisting of a hydroxyl group with a direct bonding to an aromatic hydrocarbon group.

Alcohols are less acidic, compared to phenol.

In nature, phenols are acidic and should be diluted before going to use.

Regarding usage, alcohol is the main ingredient of alcoholic beverages and can also be used in ink, pharma, and more industries.

Phenols are mainly used in manufacturing medical products as antiseptic agents.

Mostly, alcohols are colorless and are in a liquid state.

Phenols can be found as colourless solids present in the form of crystals at room temperature. 

Since alcohols are mostly neutral, they do not show any reaction or impact while undergoing any test.

Since phenols are acidic in nature, they can change the litmus paper into red.

Alcohol does not produce any colour.

Phenol gives a light yellow precipitate of its Bromo derivative.

Alcohols are aliphatic compounds.

Phenols are aromatic compounds.

The density of alcohol is about 789 kg/m3.

The density of Phenol is 1.07 g/m3.

Alcohols do not react to NaOH.

By reacting with NaOH, phenols form phenoxides.

Difference between Alcohol and Phenol

The above text helped you to understand the meanings of alcohol and phenol. It also gave you an insight into a few other topics like the physical properties, characteristics, and the difference between both of them. 

Chemistry is a subject which includes lots and lots of learning work and for that, you need a lot of patience and also a calm and composed mind.

Some simple strategies which will help you get the best results are mentioned below. 

You should try these tricks and also include them in your schedule. 

  • Highlight Key Concepts

This strategy may look useless to you at the moment that you are reading it but it can do wonders for you. It involves underlining the important points so that they can be of some help to you in future when it's time for your exams. 

Whenever you find some important details, you may highlight the key points or write them at the edge of the text. You can also use sticky notes and paste them along with the text. 

And when it is finally time to prepare for the tests, the first thing you shall be doing is to read those highlighted notes.

  • Summarize Important Details

Another good way to get all the information set in your brain is to speak it all in your words again and again. It is like telling yourself the important points so that your mind registers them. 

A summary usually doesn't include every bit of information but make sure to add all the important details and present it in your words. 

Try using some different colours while writing the summary and it can be a very useful technique since it consists of a scientifically proven technique of visual learning. 

  • Create your Flashcards

This is a fantastic technique to learn and remember the information and it also helps you to quiz yourself. Flashcards can be made like writing the important keyword on one side of the card and related points on either side. 

This is an efficient way to learn and remember things quickly and easily. You can also take some help with digital flashcards from which you can reinforce your knowledge over and over again. 

Also, since they are very handy and easily accessible, it is a great way to utilize every spare minute as you can just put them out of your bag and start revising. 

  • Be the Teacher

It is a great strategy to understand the concepts best. When you teach someone any concept, you need to be clear about it. You can teach any friend, family member or any of your study group members. Reading it aloud will help you understand the concept better and give you clarity of all the concepts. And also your listener will be able to tell you about the gaps in your preparation. 

  • Absorb Information in Smaller Chunks 

You can divide the learning parts into smaller groups and then try to remember them, it will help you memorize them easily and within no time. 

It should be done the same way we learn a phone number: we divide the number into smaller groups of 3 or 2 digits and then memorize it one by one. Similarly, you can get all your concepts stored in your brain quickly. 

  • Prepare a Study Sheet

A study sheet is similar to flashcards, it is portable and handy and also very useful, whenever you get time, you just need to pull it out of your bag and don’t waste any time. 

A study sheet includes all the important points in a single sheet and also it should be done with different colors. As visual learning can help you memorize better, using colors can be a great way to learn and retain the concepts.

FAQs on Difference Between Alcohol and Phenol

1. I am confused about a lot of things and want to get clarity about the same. Can some help be provided? 

A counseling session at Vedantu is available and that too free of cost. You can get connected to the best counselors who will give you the most appropriate advice and will lead you to the right path. You just need to download the Vedantu mobile app which is available at the app store or the play store and register for the session. 

2. What are the highest paying jobs in the Chemistry field? 

Some of the highest-paying jobs in the chemistry field are chemical engineering, water chemist, analytical chemist, geochemist and much more. You can get all the information about the jobs in the chemistry field on the website of Vedantu or the Vedantu mobile app. 

3. What is the best way to prepare for a Chemistry exam? 

The best way to prepare for the chemistry exam is to learn, remember and revise. You just need to reinforce your knowledge over and over again so that you can get clarity of the concepts and also understand it better. You can get the Vedantu mobile app which provides you with revision not between es, quizzes, and also live classes that will help you pass your exams with flying colors.

4. How will you distinguish alcohol and phenol?

Phenol, aromatic alcohol, reacts easily with an aqueous solution of FeCl3 to give a violet color. On the other hand, no aliphatic alcohol (For example, ethyl alcohol, methyl alcohol, etc.) will react with a solution of FeCl3.

When handled with aqueous Br2 phenol, the white precipitate is 2,4,6-tribromophenol. However, aliphatic alcohols do not react with the solution of Br2.

Phenols have a hydroxyl group directly linked to the ring, whereas alcohols, as non-aromatic compounds, have a hydroxyl group linked to the main chain. The difference is one is cyclic, and the other is non-cyclic.

5. Why can you pour acid directly into the water, but why can't water in an acid?

A significant amount of heat is emitted when strong acids are combined with water. Adding more acid obviously releases more heat. If you add water to the acid, you initially form a highly concentrated acid solution. Too much heat is emitted that the solution will boil very violently, splashing condensed acid out of the bottle.

If you apply acid to the water, the solvent that emerges is rather diluted, and a little amount of heat is produced which is not enough to vaporize and spatter the solution. So it's always advised to Add Acid to water, but not vice versa.