Grignard Reaction and Grignard Reagent

Grignard Reaction and Grignard Reagent
The Grignard reaction uses an organometallic compound to make new carbon-carbon bonds.

Simply put, the Grignard Reaction is a cornerstone process in organic chemistry that involves reacting Grignard reagents (compounds containing a carbon-magnesium bond) with a variety of other compounds to form a new carbon-carbon bond. Forming carbon-carbon bonds, in turn, is an essential step in creating complex organic molecules. The reaction is instrumental to many everyday items we use, from pharmaceutical drugs to fragrances.

What Is the Grignard Reaction and a Grignard Reagent?

Both the Grignard reaction and Grignard reagents take their name for the French chemist François Auguste Victor Grignard, who discovered them. A Grignard reagent is an organometallic magnesium compound typically represented as RMgX where R is an organic group and X is a halide. These reagents serve as a powerful tool in organic synthesis due to their ability to form new carbon-carbon bonds. They form these bonds via the Grignard reaction between the Grignard reagent and a variety of electrophilic molecules. Traditionally, the reaction is between a Grignard reagent and either a ketone or aldehyde group, forming a secondary or tertiary alcohol. Note that the reaction between an organic halide and magnesium is not a Grignard reaction, although it does produce a Grignard reagent.


The story of the Grignard reaction begins in 1900, when François Grignard first reported his discovery while working at the University of Nancy, France. His research was groundbreaking, allowing chemists to create a variety of complex molecules more easily than ever before. For his discovery, Grignard was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1912.

Grignard Reaction Example

Let’s illustrate the reaction with a simple example. Consider a Grignard reagent like methylmagnesium bromide (CH3MgBr) and react it with a compound containing a carbonyl group, such as formaldehyde (H2CO). The Grignard reagents attacks the carbonyl carbon, ultimately forming a new carbon-carbon bond. The end product in this case is an alcohol, specifically ethanol (CH3CH2OH).

A Closer Look at the Mechanism

So how does this mechanism work?

The Grignard reaction follows a nucleophilic addition mechanism. The Grignard reagent, which is a strong nucleophile, attacks the electrophilic carbon atom that is present within the polar bond of the carbonyl group. This leads to the formation of an alkoxide intermediate, which, when treated with an acid, produces the final alcohol.

Importance of the Grignard Reaction

The Grignard reaction is immensely significant, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, where the formation of carbon-carbon bonds is critical for drug synthesis. This reaction also finds use in the production of polymers, fragrances, and various chemical compounds.

A Closer Look at Grignard Reagents

Grignard reagents form via the reaction of an alkyl or aryl halide with magnesium metal, typically in a solvent like dry ether. It’s important that no moisture is present, as Grignard reagents are highly reactive and react with water, rendering them useless for further reactions.

Types of Reactions With Grignard Reagents

Grignard reagents are versatile and engage in several types of reactions, primarily due to their strong nucleophilic and basic characteristics.

  1. Addition to Carbonyl Compounds: This is the most common use of Grignard reagents, where they react with carbonyl groups in aldehydes, ketones, esters, and carbon dioxide to form alcohols and carboxylic acids.
  2. Formation of Carbon-Carbon Bonds: Grignard reagents react with halocarbons or other organic halides to form new carbon-carbon bonds. This reaction extends the carbon chain in organic synthesis.
  3. Acid-Base Reactions: Grignard reagents, being strong bases, react with water, alcohols, and acids to form the corresponding hydrocarbons.
  4. Formation of Carbon-Nitrogen Bonds: Grignard reagents react with compounds containing electrophilic nitrogen, such as imines and nitriles, forming carbon-nitrogen bonds.
  5. Transmetallation Reactions: Grignard reagents react with some metal halides in a process known as transmetallation. This process aids in the synthesis of organometallic compounds.

How to Make a Grignard Reagent

For instance, let’s take bromobenzene (C6H5Br) and magnesium. The reaction of these two compounds in dry ether gives phenylmagnesium bromide (C6H5MgBr), a Grignard reagent.

Here’s a more detailed description of the process. The alkyl halide (R-X) is in a flask containing small pieces of clean magnesium turnings under anhydrous ether. The flask is under a nitrogen or argon atmosphere to prevent moisture and oxygen from the air from reacting with the reagent.

Once the reaction is initiated (usually by gentle heating or crushing a small piece of iodine with the magnesium), the solution becomes cloudy, indicating the formation of the Grignard reagent (R-Mg-X). The ether serves a dual purpose as it solvates the reagent and provides an oxygen-free environment.

Testing Grignard Reagents

Testing reagents is important, since they are so sensitive to oxygen and moisture that they are easily inactivated. The methods testing for the presence and activity of Grignard reagents usually involve observing the reactivity of the reagent or examining the products formed.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Reactivity with Water: When a Grignard reagent comes into contact with water, it reacts immediately, leading to the formation of the corresponding hydrocarbon and magnesium hydroxide. The reaction sometimes involves the production of gas (especially with lower molecular weight Grignards, which form gaseous hydrocarbons) or a separate layer (for liquid hydrocarbons), indicating the Grignard reagent’s activity.
  2. Reactivity with Carbon Dioxide: If the Grignard reagent reacts with carbon dioxide, it forms a carboxylate salt. Upon acidification, this produces a carboxylic acid. Blue litmus paper turns red in the presence of carboxylic acid.
  3. Titration with Anhydrous Protic Reagents: For example, reacting a Grignard reagent with menthol in the presence of a color-change indicator or with 2,2′-biquinoline or phenanthroline yields a color change if the reagent is active.
  4. Infrared Spectroscopy: More sophisticated laboratories use infrared (IR) spectroscopy for confirming the formation of the Grignard reagent. This method uses the fact that the carbon-magnesium bond in Grignard reagents absorbs infrared light at a specific wavelength.


  • IUPAC (1997). “Grignard reagents.” Compendium of Chemical Terminology (2nd ed.) (the “Gold Book”). Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications. ISBN 0-9678550-9-8. doi:10.1351/goldbook
  • Grignard, V. (1900). “Sur quelques nouvelles combinaisons organométalliques du magnésium et leur application à des synthèses d’alcools et d’hydrocabures”. Compt. Rend. 130: 1322–25.
  • Huryn, D. M. (1991). “Carbanions of Alkali and Alkaline Earth Cations: (ii) Selectivity of Carbonyl Addition Reactions”. In Trost, B. M.; Fleming, I. (eds.). Comprehensive Organic Synthesis, Volume 1: Additions to C—X π-Bonds, Part 1. Elsevier Science. pp. 49–75. doi:10.1016/B978-0-08-052349-1.00002-0. ISBN 978-0-08-052349-1.
  • Shirley, D. A. (1954). “The Synthesis of Ketones from Acid Halides and Organometallic Compounds of Magnesium, Zinc, and Cadmium”. Org. React. 8: 28–58. doi:10.1021/jo01203a012
  • Smith, Michael B.; March, Jerry (2007). Advanced Organic Chemistry: Reactions, Mechanisms, and Structure (6th ed.). New York: Wiley-Interscience. ISBN 978-0-471-72091-1.