In organic chemistry, we deal with a variety of molecules. One of the most important structures is conjugation. When double bonds (unsaturated bonds) and single bonds alternate, they are called conjugates.

Double bonds are known to cause addition reactions. However, in conjugated dienes, two types of reactions occur when the addition reaction occurs. They are 1,2 addition and 1,4 addition. So you have to understand which reaction occurs.

Another famous reaction in 1,4 addition is Michael addition. For compounds with electron-withdrawing groups, the effect of 1,4 addition is especially important.

So we will explain the 1,2 and 1,4 addition to conjugated dienes and check the nature of the Michael addition for compounds with electron-withdrawing groups.

Properties of Conjugated Dienes Stabilized by Resonance Structure

There are many compounds that have double bonds in the molecule. When an alkene has two alternating double and single bonds, it is called a conjugated diene. For example, the following compounds have a conjugated structure and are conjugated dienes because they have two double bonds.


Two double bonds in a molecule do not necessarily make it a conjugated diene. The double bond and the single bond must alternate.

For example, the following compounds are not conjugated dienes.

So why should molecules with a conjugated structure be learned separately from compounds with double bonds? It’s because we can write a resonance structure.

Even if there are double bonds as alkenes, if each one exists on its own, they only have the properties of a general double bond. On the other hand, if there is a conjugated structure, it resonates as follows.

Because they resonate, conjugated dienes have a more stable structure than non-conjugated dienes. They also have the property of double bonds, even if they are single bonds. In fact, for the single bond in the middle of a conjugated diene, the bond distance is shorter than that of an alkane and longer than that of an alkene.

The conjugated structure allows the electrons to move more complexly because the π-electrons are dispersed in various locations due to resonance. This is a characteristic of compounds with conjugated systems.

Reactions of 1,2 Addition (Direct Addition) and 1,4 Addition (Conjugate Addition)

Why is the conjugated system of molecules so important? It’s because the movement of the π-electrons causes complex chemical reactions.

The presence of a double bond is known to cause an additional reaction. This is called 1,2 addition (direct addition) because the molecule bonds to the first and second positions of the double bond. However, in conjugated dienes, not only 1,2 addition but also 1,4 addition (conjugate addition) occurs, which is an addition reaction at the 1 and 4 positions.

For example, when 1,3-butadiene reacts with HBr (hydrogen bromide), both 1,2 and 1,4 addition reactions occur as shown below.

1,2 Addition (direct addition) is a typical addition reaction. In contrast, why does 1,4 addition (conjugate addition) occur? The reason is that the presence of a conjugated structure causes the molecule to resonate.

Reaction Mechanism of Addition Reaction to Conjugated Dienes

The reason why conjugate addition occurs can be understood by checking the reaction mechanism by which the addition reaction occurs to conjugated dienes.

Initially, in the addition reaction, the π-electrons of the double bond attack the hydrogen atoms of the hydrogen halide. The result is the formation of a carbocation; in the case of 1,3-butadiene, the hydrogen atom is attached to the terminal carbon. This is because aryl cations are more stable than primary carbocations when considering the stability of carbocations.

In the case of 1,2 addition (direct addition), the bromine ion attacks after the carbocation is formed. As a result, the addition reaction is completed by the following reaction mechanism.

In contrast, in 1,4 addition (conjugate addition), after a hydrogen atom is bonded, the location of the double bond changes due to resonance. Afterwards, the bromine ion attacks.

The reaction mechanism is as follows.

Because of the double bond next to the carbocation, electrons can be transferred. As a result, 1,4 addition can occur.

Kinetic and Thermodynamic Control Determines Regioselectivity

So which occurs preferentially, 1,2 addition or 1,4 addition? This depends on the reaction temperature. When the reaction is carried out at a low temperature (-78°C), 1,2 addition takes place. On the other hand, when the reaction is carried out at room temperature (e.g., 25°C), 1,4 addition takes place.

Under low temperature conditions, 1,2 addition is preferred. On the other hand, under high temperature conditions, 1,4 addition is preferred. Why does this difference occur?

-1,2 Addition Is Kinetic Control

The 1,2 addition in conjugated dienes is due to kinetic control. The kinetic control is based on the fact that the reaction takes place preferentially at low temperatures in a short time.

When a proton is added to the double bond, aryl cation is formed. When the bromine ion attacks the carbocation, it is closer to the carbon atom in the second position than to the carbon atom in the fourth position. Therefore, if lowering the temperature, lowers the movement of the molecule and the activation energy required for the reaction, the 1,2 addition proceeds preferentially.

It is for this reason that 1,2 addition is kinetic control and the reaction proceeds preferentially at low temperature conditions.

-1,4 Addition Is Thermodynamic Control

On the other hand, for 1,4 addition, the reaction is thermodynamic control. If the reaction is carried out at a high temperature and takes a long time, the reaction results in thermodynamic control. The thermodynamic control is the reaction proceeds in such a way that the product with high stability is synthesized.

If the temperature of the reaction is high, stable compounds will be preferentially formed, even if the activation energy is somewhat high. For the addition reaction to a conjugated diene, when comparing the compounds formed, the stability differs as follows.

Why is there such a difference in stability between the product compounds? The allyl cation has a double bond. In molecules with a double bond, polysubstituted alkenes are known to be more stable.

This is explained by the phenomenon of hyperconjugation. The double bond has π electrons in it. Therefore, if there is a C-H bond next to it, the π electrons of the double bond and the C-H bond are parallel to each other. As a result, the structure is stabilized by weakly sharing electrons.

When addition reactions occur to conjugated dienes, the products are more stable with 1,4 addition. Since polysubstituted alkenes are preferentially synthesized, 1,4 addition (conjugate addition) proceeds under thermodynamic control at high reaction temperatures.

Important Michael addition in α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds

What is important in conjugated dienes is the fact that they cause 1,4 additions. In organic chemistry, there are other important 1,4 additions. That is the Michael addition. The 1,4 addition to α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds is Michael addition.

In some carbonyl compounds, a carbonyl group (ketone) and a double bond exist next to each other in the molecule. These compounds are α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds. When a nucleophilic agent attacks α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds, two types of reactions occur.

  • Nucleophilic attack on carbonyl carbons
  • Nucleophilic attack on the double bond (1,4 addition: Michael addition)

Thus, 1,2 or 1,4 addition occurs in α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds.

The concept is the same as for conjugated dienes as mentioned earlier as to which one is the preferential reaction to occur. Due to the influence of the oxygen atom, the carbonyl carbon is positively polarized. Therefore, the activation energy is low and 1,2 addition proceeds by kinetic control.

However, attacking the carbonyl carbon has a large steric hindrance. Nucleophilic attack on the double bond and the 1,4 addition provides a more stable compound. In other words, the Michael addition proceeds by thermodynamic control of the reaction.

If the reaction is irreversible, the 1,2 addition proceeds by lowering the activation energy. On the other hand, in the case of a reversible reaction, the equilibrium reaction takes place when the reaction is carried out for a long time, and the reaction proceeds in such a way that a stable compound is finally synthesized even if the reaction rate is slow.

-Electron-Withdrawing Groups Such as Cyano and Nitro Groups Cause Michael Addition

If there are electron-withdrawing groups, Michael addition will occur. Ketones are a typical example of electron-withdrawing groups. For this reason, α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds are frequently used as examples in the Michael addition.

However, ketones are not the only electron-withdrawing group. Cyano and nitro groups are also known to be electron-withdrawing groups. When these functional groups are present next to a double bond, the reaction can proceed by Michael addition.

In addition to alkenes, Michael addition can also occur when electron-withdrawing groups are present in alkynes (triple bonds).

Thermodynamic Control of Enolate Synthesis: Retro-Aldol Reaction

Nucleophilic attack of strong bases on α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds generally results in 1,2 addition. This is because the acid-base reaction leads to a more rapid synthesis. In fact, Grignard reagent, known as a strong base, makes 1,2 additions to α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds.

On the contrary, when enolate is used, the reaction proceeds by thermodynamic control and Michael addition takes place. In the Michael addition of α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds, the synthetic reaction using enolate is very important.

Why do enolate and α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds make a Michael addition instead of a 1,2 addition? It’s because enolate and α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds are reversible reactions.

When an enolate reacts with a ketone (or aldehyde), it is called aldol reaction. The aldol reaction allows new carbon bonds to be made. However, even if the product is obtained by the aldol reaction, in some cases it may return to the original compound. This is called retro-aldol reaction.

By 1,2 addition (direct addition), enolate can attack the carbonyl carbon. However, the product of 1,2 addition is more unstable than the product of 1,4 addition (conjugate addition). Therefore, the retro-aldol reaction leads to the formation of stable Michael addition compounds with the passage of time.

Because of the equilibrium reaction due to steric hindrance, the reaction of enolate with α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds proceeds by thermodynamic control. Therefore, when enolate is utilized, the following compounds can be obtained by conjugate addition.

One of the important issues in organic chemistry is whether 1,2 addition occurs or Michael addition occurs by 1,4 addition.

In a nucleophilic attack on an α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compound, both 1,2 and 1,4 addition can occur. It just depends on the reaction conditions, which one is preferred. So you need to learn under which conditions the Michael addition takes precedence.

Conditions and Reaction Mechanism for 1,2 and 1,4 Addition

When double bonds are alternately present, they are called conjugated structures. In these compounds, a special reaction occurs: not only 1,2 addition, but also 1,4 addition occurs in conjugated dienes.

It is important to learn the difference between 1,2 and 1,4 additions. In kinetic control, 1,2 addition occurs and in thermodynamic control, 1,4 addition occurs.

The same can be said for Michael addition to α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds. In the case of a reversible reaction rather than an irreversible reaction, Michael addition is preferred. A frequently used example is the aldol reaction between enolate and α,β-unsaturated carbonyl compounds.

Some molecules have multiple reaction sites. One of them is a compound with a conjugated structure. Let’s understand how 1,2 or 1,4 addition occurs.