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Home :FAQ :Introduction to inorganic chemistryPrint | Comment
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Why are some carbon compounds classified as inorganic?

Why are reactions between iron and cyanides considered "inorganic reactions"? Cyanide has a carbon atom. I would think this would make it organic and thus the reactions with iron should be discussed as organic chemistry??? Please set me straight. Thanks.
Sally L. Benjamin 6/04/99

Vocabulary
carbonate*
cyanide*
inorganic*
organic*
Until the last half of the 19th century, it was believed that organic compounds could only be produced by living things. Cyanides, bicarbonates, carbonates, and some other carbon-containing compounds were classified as "inorganic" because of their source: they can be obtained in large quantity from minerals.

We know better today. Organic compounds can be produced from inorganic raw materials. But the traditional division of compounds into organic and inorganic is useful, and it continues to be used.

A sharper (but equally artificial) line can be drawn between the organic and inorganic realms by considering organic compounds as more than simply carbon-containing compounds. Compounds that are considered organic must contain carbon bound to hydrogen and possibly other elements. By this definition, iron cyanide complexes, carbon dioxide, carbon tetrachloride, and sodium bicarbonate are all inorganic.

Author: Fred Senese senese@antoine.frostburg.edu



General Chemistry Online! Why are some carbon compounds classified as inorganic?

Copyright © 1997-2010 by Fred Senese
Comments & questions to fsenese@frostburg.edu
Last Revised 02/15/10.URL: http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/inorganic/faq/what-is-inorganic-carbon.shtml