Ace Your Next Organic Chemistry Exam.

With these Downloadable PDF Study Guides

Our Study Guides

Basic hydrolysis of esters (saponification)

Description: Esters can be converted to carboxylic acids through treatment with strong base.

Notes: This is not an equilibrium. The first product formed in step 1 is a carboxylate salt. Addition of acid in step 2 then gives the neutral carboxylic acid. The name “saponification” comes from the fact this method is used to make soaps from fats – many soaps are carboxylate salts.



Note that the last example is opening of a ring to give a linear molecule (these examples often give students trouble).

Mechanism: Addition of hydroxide to the ester (Step 1, arrows A and B) results in a tetrahedral intermediate, which then eliminates
alkoxide (Step 2, arrows C and D). This results in a carboxylic acid; however, since it is present in strongly basic solution,
the carboxylic acid is deprotonated to give a carboxylate (Step 3, arrows E and F). Finally, addition of acid (H+) gives the
neutral carboxylic acid.

Notes: be alert that some sources may not show the third and fourth steps(deprotonation / protonation) and will (for simplicity) simply show the results of Steps 1 and 2.