What Are Aromatic Compounds

These hydrocarbons are also known as ‘arenes’. Since most of them possess pleasant odor (Greek; aroma meaning pleasant smelling), the class of compounds was named as ‘aromatic compounds’. Most of such compounds were found to contain benzene ring. Benzene ring is highly unsaturated but in a majority of reactions of aromatic compounds, the unsaturation of benzene ring is retained. However, there are examples of aromatic hydrocarbons which do not contain a benzene ring but instead contain other highly unsaturated ring. Aromatic compounds containing benzene ring are known as benzenoids and those not containing a benzene ring are known as non-benzenoids.

Structure Of Benzene:

Benzene was isolated by Michael Faraday in 1825. The molecular formula of benzene, C6H6, indicates a high degree of unsaturation. This molecular formula did not account for its relationship to corresponding alkanes, alkenes and alkynes which you have studied in earlier sections of this unit. What do you think about its possible structure? Due to its unique properties and unusual stability, it took several years to assign its structure. Benzene was found to be a stable molecule and found to form a triozonide which indicates the presence of three double bonds. Benzene was further found to produce one and only one mono-substituted derivative which indicated that all the six carbon and six hydrogen atoms of benzene are identical. On the basis of this observation August Kekulé in 1865 proposed the following structure for benzene having cyclic arrangement of six carbon atoms with alternate single and double bonds and one hydrogen atom attached to each carbon atom.


Benzene was considered as parent ‘aromatic’ compound. Now, the name is applied to all the ring systems whether or not having benzene ring, possessing following characteristics. (i) Planarity (ii) Complete delocalization of the π electrons in the ring (iii) Presence of (4n + 2) π electrons in the ring where n is an integer (n = 0, 1, 2, . . .). This is often referred to as Hückel Rule.

Physical Properties:

Aromatic hydrocarbons are non- polar molecules and are usually colorless liquids or solids with a characteristic aroma. You are also familiar with naphthalene balls which are used in toilets and for preservation of clothes because of unique smell of the compound and the moth repellent property. Aromatic hydrocarbons are immiscible with water but are readily miscible with organic solvents. They burn with sooty flame.

Chemical Properties:

Arenes are characterized by electrophilic substitution reactions. However, under special conditions they can also undergo addition and oxidation reactions.

Benzene and polynuclear hydrocarbons containing more than two benzene rings fused together are toxic and said to possess cancer producing (carcinogenic) property. Such polynuclear hydrocarbons are formed on incomplete combustion of organic materials like tobacco, coal and petroleum. They enter into human body and undergo various biochemical reactions and finally damage DNA and cause cancer.