what is the difference detween an inorganic and organic compound?
There are quite a number of common definitions, but most of them are too
restrictive and have exceptions. Incidentally there's a very good
answer on the Web, to the question of "what is organic
Organic compounds are produced by living things. Inorganic
compounds are produced by non-living natural processes or by human
intervention in the laboratory.
This was the most common definition of "organic" until
Wohler's 1828 synthesis of urea (an organic compound) from
ammonium cyanate (a salt, and ┐therefore? inorganic). But we no
longer use this definition, for the simple reason that many compounds that
everyone agrees are organic -- including "natural products" which
are routinely made by living things -- have been synthesized by humans.
Some of these natural products are synthesized by the ton. And
unquestionably organic molecules, such as the amino acid glycine, have been
interstellar space where there are no living things.
Some people apparently
still think this definition should hold, but it's just not so.
Inorganic compounds can form salts. Organic compounds can't.
This definition seems to work as a practical matter under very limited
circumstances. For example, it allows us to distinguish between the
organic and inorganic cyano group, which have rather different
chemical behaviors in e.g. acetonitrile and sodium cyanide.
But this definition is far too limited. Not only are there plenty of
inorganic compounds that don't form salts (for example,
sulfur hexafluoride SF6), but there are a
number of organic compounds that do form salts: not only
carboxylic acids but amines, alcohols, and even acetylene can form salts.
And how do we distinguish between (organic) sodium acetylide, NaC║CH, and (inorganic) calcium
Some chemists would call lithium acetylide, potassium acetate and sodium
methoxide ("sodium methylate") inorganic, while calling
acetylene, acetic acid and methanol (from which the salts are derived)
organic -- but I'm not one of them.
Furthermore there are now a number of indubitably organic compounds that
are nevertheless stable salts. For more,
see this answer.
Organic compounds contain carbon. Inorganic compounds don't.
This definition is often given but is no help at all. What do we make of
carbon dioxide, sodium cyanide, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), ...?
Organic compounds contain carbon-hydrogen bonds. Inorganic
This is a much better definition, allowing us to call sodium acetylide
"organic" but calcium carbide "inorganic," but it
doesn't always work. We can certainly distinguish the compounds listed
above as inorganic by this rule, but what about tetracyanoethylene, which
is indubitably organic but contains no hydrogen atoms at all?
Nevertheless, almost all "organic carbon"
has carbon-hydrogen bonds, while all
"inorganic carbon" does not have carbon-hydrogen
bonds. Even if you call e.g. sodium acetate inorganic, everyone will
agree that the carbon atom which is attached to the hydrogens is
Inorganic compounds contain metal atoms. Organic compounds
This doesn't really work any too well either. Even leaving the huge field
organometallic chemistry out of the running, are we really going
to call soap (sodium salts of fatty acids) or the lipid bilayers forming
cell membranes (again, salts of long-chain organic acids)
An organic compound is whatever an organic chemist says it is; an
inorganic compound is whatever an inorganic chemist says it is.
In practice the distinction often reduces to this. If an organic chemist is
studying it, it's probably an organic compound. If an inorganic chemist is
studying it, these days it's still probably an organic compound... many
inorganic chemists are busily studying the biological uses of metal atoms
and so forth, and in biological systems metals are firmly incorporated into
an organic chemical matrix!
Of course that's not entirely fair. Normally organic chemists study organic
or organometallic compounds, and inorganic chemists study organometallic
compounds or inorganic compounds. Organometallic chemistry is where the
fields meet, and it's neither "organic" nor "inorganic"
any more than biochemistry is exclusively either "biology" or