SN2 reaction
Overview
 
The SN2 reaction is a type of nucleophilic substitution
Nucleophilic substitution
In organic and inorganic chemistry, nucleophilic substitution is a fundamental class of reactions in which an electron nucleophile selectively bonds with or attacks the positive or partially positive charge of an atom or a group of atoms called the leaving group; the positive or partially positive...

, where a lone pair from a nucleophile
Nucleophile
A nucleophile is a species that donates an electron-pair to an electrophile to form a chemical bond in a reaction. All molecules or ions with a free pair of electrons can act as nucleophiles. Because nucleophiles donate electrons, they are by definition Lewis bases.Nucleophilic describes the...

 attacks an electron deficient electrophilic
Electrophile
In general electrophiles are positively charged species that are attracted to an electron rich centre. In chemistry, an electrophile is a reagent attracted to electrons that participates in a chemical reaction by accepting an electron pair in order to bond to a nucleophile...

 center and bonds
Covalent bond
A covalent bond is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding....

 to it, expelling another group called a leaving group
Leaving group
In chemistry, a leaving group is a molecular fragment that departs with a pair of electrons in heterolytic bond cleavage. Leaving groups can be anions or neutral molecules. Common anionic leaving groups are halides such as Cl−, Br−, and I−, and sulfonate esters, such as para-toluenesulfonate...

. Thus the incoming group replaces the leaving group in one step. Since two reacting species are involved in the slow, rate-determining step
Rate-determining step
The rate-determining step is a chemistry term for the slowest step in a chemical reaction. The rate-determining step is often compared to the neck of a funnel; the rate at which water flows through the funnel is determined by the width of the neck, not by the speed at which water is poured in. In...

 of the reaction
Chemical reaction
A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Chemical reactions can be either spontaneous, requiring no input of energy, or non-spontaneous, typically following the input of some type of energy, such as heat, light or electricity...

, this leads to the name bimolecular nucleophilic substitution, or SN2. Among inorganic chemists, the SN2 reaction is often known as the interchange mechanism.
The reaction most often occurs at an aliphatic sp3
Orbital hybridisation
In chemistry, hybridisation is the concept of mixing atomic orbitals to form new hybrid orbitals suitable for the qualitative description of atomic bonding properties. Hybridised orbitals are very useful in the explanation of the shape of molecular orbitals for molecules. It is an integral part...

 carbon center with an electronegative, stable leaving group attached to it - 'X' - frequently a halide atom.
Encyclopedia
The SN2 reaction is a type of nucleophilic substitution
Nucleophilic substitution
In organic and inorganic chemistry, nucleophilic substitution is a fundamental class of reactions in which an electron nucleophile selectively bonds with or attacks the positive or partially positive charge of an atom or a group of atoms called the leaving group; the positive or partially positive...

, where a lone pair from a nucleophile
Nucleophile
A nucleophile is a species that donates an electron-pair to an electrophile to form a chemical bond in a reaction. All molecules or ions with a free pair of electrons can act as nucleophiles. Because nucleophiles donate electrons, they are by definition Lewis bases.Nucleophilic describes the...

 attacks an electron deficient electrophilic
Electrophile
In general electrophiles are positively charged species that are attracted to an electron rich centre. In chemistry, an electrophile is a reagent attracted to electrons that participates in a chemical reaction by accepting an electron pair in order to bond to a nucleophile...

 center and bonds
Covalent bond
A covalent bond is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding....

 to it, expelling another group called a leaving group
Leaving group
In chemistry, a leaving group is a molecular fragment that departs with a pair of electrons in heterolytic bond cleavage. Leaving groups can be anions or neutral molecules. Common anionic leaving groups are halides such as Cl−, Br−, and I−, and sulfonate esters, such as para-toluenesulfonate...

. Thus the incoming group replaces the leaving group in one step. Since two reacting species are involved in the slow, rate-determining step
Rate-determining step
The rate-determining step is a chemistry term for the slowest step in a chemical reaction. The rate-determining step is often compared to the neck of a funnel; the rate at which water flows through the funnel is determined by the width of the neck, not by the speed at which water is poured in. In...

 of the reaction
Chemical reaction
A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Chemical reactions can be either spontaneous, requiring no input of energy, or non-spontaneous, typically following the input of some type of energy, such as heat, light or electricity...

, this leads to the name bimolecular nucleophilic substitution, or SN2. Among inorganic chemists, the SN2 reaction is often known as the interchange mechanism.

Reaction mechanism

The reaction most often occurs at an aliphatic sp3
Orbital hybridisation
In chemistry, hybridisation is the concept of mixing atomic orbitals to form new hybrid orbitals suitable for the qualitative description of atomic bonding properties. Hybridised orbitals are very useful in the explanation of the shape of molecular orbitals for molecules. It is an integral part...

 carbon center with an electronegative, stable leaving group attached to it - 'X' - frequently a halide atom. The breaking of the C-X bond and the formation of the new C-Nu bond occur simultaneously to form a transition state
Transition state
The transition state of a chemical reaction is a particular configuration along the reaction coordinate. It is defined as the state corresponding to the highest energy along this reaction coordinate. At this point, assuming a perfectly irreversible reaction, colliding reactant molecules will always...

 in which the carbon under nucleophilic attack is pentacoordinate
Coordination number
In chemistry and crystallography, the coordination number of a central atom in a molecule or crystal is the number of its nearest neighbours. This number is determined somewhat differently for molecules and for crystals....

, and approximately sp2 hybridised
Orbital hybridisation
In chemistry, hybridisation is the concept of mixing atomic orbitals to form new hybrid orbitals suitable for the qualitative description of atomic bonding properties. Hybridised orbitals are very useful in the explanation of the shape of molecular orbitals for molecules. It is an integral part...

. The nucleophile attacks the carbon at 180° to the leaving group
Leaving group
In chemistry, a leaving group is a molecular fragment that departs with a pair of electrons in heterolytic bond cleavage. Leaving groups can be anions or neutral molecules. Common anionic leaving groups are halides such as Cl−, Br−, and I−, and sulfonate esters, such as para-toluenesulfonate...

, since this provides the best overlap between the nucleophile's lone pair and the C-X σ* antibonding orbital. The leaving group is then pushed off the opposite side and the product is formed.

If the substrate under nucleophilic attack is chiral
Chirality (chemistry)
A chiral molecule is a type of molecule that lacks an internal plane of symmetry and thus has a non-superimposable mirror image. The feature that is most often the cause of chirality in molecules is the presence of an asymmetric carbon atom....

, this can lead, although not necessarily, to an inversion of stereochemistry
Stereochemistry
Stereochemistry, a subdiscipline of chemistry, involves the study of the relative spatial arrangement of atoms within molecules. An important branch of stereochemistry is the study of chiral molecules....

, called the Walden inversion
Walden inversion
Walden inversion is the inversion of a chiral center in a molecule in a chemical reaction. Since a molecule can form two enantiomers around a chiral center, the Walden inversion converts the configuration of the molecule from one enantiomeric form to the other. For example, in a SN2 reaction,...

.

In an example of the SN2 reaction, the attack of OH
Hydroxide
Hydroxide is a diatomic anion with chemical formula OH−. It consists of an oxygen and a hydrogen atom held together by a covalent bond, and carrying a negative electric charge. It is an important but usually minor constituent of water. It functions as a base, as a ligand, a nucleophile, and a...

 (the nucleophile) on a bromoethane
Bromoethane
Bromoethane, also known as ethyl bromide, is a chemical compound of the haloalkanes group. It is abbreviated by chemists as EtBr. This volatile compound has an ether-like odour.-Preparation:...

 (the electrophile) results in ethanol
Ethanol
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a...

, with bromide
Bromide
A bromide is a chemical compound containing bromide ion, that is bromine atom with effective charge of −1. The class name can include ionic compounds such as caesium bromide or covalent compounds such as sulfur dibromide.-Natural occurrence:...

 ejected as the leaving group:
SN2 attack occurs if the backside route of attack is not sterically hindered by substituent
Substituent
In organic chemistry and biochemistry, a substituent is an atom or group of atoms substituted in place of a hydrogen atom on the parent chain of a hydrocarbon...

s on the substrate
Substrate (biochemistry)
In biochemistry, a substrate is a molecule upon which an enzyme acts. Enzymes catalyze chemical reactions involving the substrate. In the case of a single substrate, the substrate binds with the enzyme active site, and an enzyme-substrate complex is formed. The substrate is transformed into one or...

. Therefore this mechanism
Reaction mechanism
In chemistry, a reaction mechanism is the step by step sequence of elementary reactions by which overall chemical change occurs.Although only the net chemical change is directly observable for most chemical reactions, experiments can often be designed that suggest the possible sequence of steps in...

 usually occurs at an unhindered primary carbon centre. If there is steric crowding on the substrate near the leaving group, such as at a tertiary carbon centre, the substitution will involve an SN1
SN1 reaction
The SN1 reaction is a substitution reaction in organic chemistry. "SN" stands for nucleophilic substitution and the "1" represents the fact that the rate-determining step is unimolecular...

 rather than an SN2 mechanism, (an SN1
SN1 reaction
The SN1 reaction is a substitution reaction in organic chemistry. "SN" stands for nucleophilic substitution and the "1" represents the fact that the rate-determining step is unimolecular...

 would also be more likely in this case because a sufficiently stable carbocation
Carbocation
A carbocation is an ion with a positively-charged carbon atom. The charged carbon atom in a carbocation is a "sextet", i.e. it has only six electrons in its outer valence shell instead of the eight valence electrons that ensures maximum stability . Therefore carbocations are often reactive,...

 intermediary could be formed.)

In coordination chemistry, associative substitution
Associative substitution
Associative substitution describes a pathway by which compounds interchange ligands. The terminology is typically applied to coordination and organometallic complexes, but resembles the Sn2 mechanism in organic chemistry. The opposite pathway is dissociative substitution, being analogous to Sn1...

 proceeds via a similar mechanism as SN2.

Factors affecting the rate of the reaction

Four factors affect the rate of the reaction:
  • Substrate. The substrate plays the most important part in determining the rate of the reaction. This is because the nucleophile attacks from the back of the substrate, thus breaking the carbon-leaving group bond and forming the carbon-nucleophile bond. Therefore, to maximise the rate of the SN2 reaction, the back of the substrate must be as unhindered as possible. Overall, this means that methyl and primary substrates react the fastest, followed by secondary substrates. Tertiary substrates do not participate in SN2 reactions, because of steric hindrance
    Steric effects
    Steric effects arise from the fact that each atom within a molecule occupies a certain amount of space. If atoms are brought too close together, there is an associated cost in energy due to overlapping electron clouds , and this may affect the molecule's preferred shape and reactivity.-Steric...

    .

  • Nucleophile. Like the substrate, steric hindrance affects the nucleophile's strength. The methoxide
    Methoxide
    Methoxides are organic salts and the simplest alkoxides. Sodium methoxide and potassium hydroxide have widespread use, though other variants such as lithium hydroxide, rubidium methoxide, caesium methoxide, and francium methoxide exist as well.- Methoxide ion :In organic chemistry, the methoxide...

     anion, for example, is both a strong base and nucleophile because it is a methyl nucleophile, and is thus very much unhindered. tert-Butoxide
    Potassium tert-butoxide
    Potassium tert-butoxide is the chemical compound with the formula 3COK. This colourless solid is a strong base useful in organic synthesis. It exists as a tetrameric cubane-like cluster...

    , on the other hand, is a strong base, but a poor nucleophile, because of its three methyl groups hindering its approach to the carbon. Nucleophile strength is also affected by charge and electronegativity
    Electronegativity
    Electronegativity, symbol χ , is a chemical property that describes the tendency of an atom or a functional group to attract electrons towards itself. An atom's electronegativity is affected by both its atomic number and the distance that its valence electrons reside from the charged nucleus...

    : nucleophilicity increases with increasing negative charge and decreasing electronegativity. For example, OH- is a better nucleophile than water, and I- is a better nucleophile than Br- (in polar protic solvents). In a polar aprotic solvent, nucleophilicity increases up a column of the periodic table as there is no hydrogen bonding between the solvent and nucleophile; in this case nucleophilicity mirrors basicity. I- would therefore be a weaker nucleophile than Br- because it is a weaker base.

  • Solvent. The solvent affects the rate of reaction because solvents may or may not surround a nucleophile, thus hindering or not hindering its approach to the carbon atom. Polar aprotic solvents, like tetrahydrofuran
    Tetrahydrofuran
    Tetrahydrofuran is a colorless, water-miscible organic liquid with low viscosity at standard temperature and pressure. This heterocyclic compound has the chemical formula 4O. As one of the most polar ethers with a wide liquid range, it is a useful solvent. Its main use, however, is as a precursor...

    , are better solvents for this reaction than polar protic solvent
    Protic solvent
    In chemistry a protic solvent is a solvent that has a hydrogen atom bound to an oxygen or a nitrogen . In general terms, any molecular solvent that contains dissociable H+ is called a protic solvent. The molecules of such solvents can donate an H+...

    s because polar protic solvents will be solvated by the solvent hydrogen bonding
    Hydrogen bond
    A hydrogen bond is the attractive interaction of a hydrogen atom with an electronegative atom, such as nitrogen, oxygen or fluorine, that comes from another molecule or chemical group. The hydrogen must be covalently bonded to another electronegative atom to create the bond...

     to the nucleophile and thus hindering it from attacking the carbon with the leaving group.

  • Leaving group. The leaving group affects the rate of reaction because the more stable it is, the more likely that it will take the two electrons of its carbon-leaving group bond with it when the nucleophile attacks the carbon. Therefore, the weaker the leaving group is as a conjugate base, and thus the stronger its corresponding acid, the better the leaving group. Examples of good leaving groups are therefore the halides (except fluoride) and tosylate
    Tosyl
    A tosyl group is CH3C6H4SO2. This group is usually derived from the compound 4-toluenesulfonyl chloride, CH3C6H4SO2Cl, which forms esters and amides of toluenesulfonic or tosylic acid...

    , whereas HO- and H2N- are not.

Reaction kinetics

The rate of an SN2 reaction is second order, as the rate-determining step
Rate-determining step
The rate-determining step is a chemistry term for the slowest step in a chemical reaction. The rate-determining step is often compared to the neck of a funnel; the rate at which water flows through the funnel is determined by the width of the neck, not by the speed at which water is poured in. In...

 depends on the nucleophile concentration, [Nu] as well as the concentration of substrate, [RX].
r
Reaction rate
The reaction rate or speed of reaction for a reactant or product in a particular reaction is intuitively defined as how fast or slow a reaction takes place...

 = k[RX][Nu]


This is a key difference between the SN1 and SN2 mechanisms. In the SN1 reaction the nucleophile attacks after the rate-limiting step is over, whereas in SN2 the nucleophile forces off the leaving group in the limiting step. In other words, the rate of SN1 reactions depend only on the concentration of the substrate while the SN2 reaction rate depends on the concentration of both the substrate and nucleophile. In cases where both mechanisms are possible (for example at a secondary carbon centre), the mechanism depends on solvent, temperature, concentration of the nucleophile or on the leaving group.

SN2 reactions are generally favored in primary alkyl halides or secondary alkyl halides with an aprotic solvent
Protic solvent
In chemistry a protic solvent is a solvent that has a hydrogen atom bound to an oxygen or a nitrogen . In general terms, any molecular solvent that contains dissociable H+ is called a protic solvent. The molecules of such solvents can donate an H+...

. They occur at a negligible rate in tertiary alkyl halides due to steric hindrance
Steric effects
Steric effects arise from the fact that each atom within a molecule occupies a certain amount of space. If atoms are brought too close together, there is an associated cost in energy due to overlapping electron clouds , and this may affect the molecule's preferred shape and reactivity.-Steric...

.

It is important to understand that SN2 and SN1 are two extremes of a sliding scale of reactions, it is possible to find many reactions which exhibit both SN2 and SN1 character in their mechanisms. For instance, it is possible to get a contact ion pairs formed from an alkyl halide in which the ions are not fully separated. When these undergo substitution the stereochemistry will be inverted (as in SN2) for many of the reacting molecules but a few may show retention of configuration. Sn2 reactions are more common than Sn1 reactions .

E2 competition

A common side reaction taking place with SN2 reactions is E2 elimination
Elimination reaction
An elimination reaction is a type of organic reaction in which two substituents are removed from a molecule in either a one or two-step mechanism...

: the incoming anion can act as a base rather than as a nucleophile, abstracting a proton and leading to formation of the alkene
Alkene
In organic chemistry, an alkene, olefin, or olefine is an unsaturated chemical compound containing at least one carbon-to-carbon double bond...

. This effect can be demonstrated in the gas-phase reaction between a sulfonate
Sulfonate
A sulfonate is a salt or ester of a sulfonic acid. It contains the functional group R-SO2O-.- Sulfonate salts:Anions with the general formula RSO2O− are called sulfonates. They are the conjugate bases of sulfonic acids with formula RSO2OH. As sulfonic acids tend to be strong acids, the...

 and a simple alkyl bromide taking place inside a mass spectrometer:


With ethyl bromide, the reaction product is predominantly the substitution product. As steric hindrance around the electrophilic center increases, as with isobutyl bromide, substitution is disfavored and elimination is the predominant reaction. Other factors favoring elimination are the strength of the base. With the less basic benzoate substrate, isopropyl bromide reacts with 55% substitution. In general, gas phase reactions and solution phase reactions of this type follow the same trends, even though in the first, solvent effects
Solvent effects
In chemistry, Solvent effects is the group of effects that a solvent has on chemical reactivity. Solvents can have an effect on solubility, stability and reaction rates and choosing the appropriate solvent allows for thermodynamic and kinetic control over a chemical reaction.-Effects on...

 are eliminated.

Roundabout mechanism

A development attracting attention in 2008 concerns a SN2 roundabout mechanism observed in a gas-phase reaction between chloride ions and methyl iodide with a special technique called crossed molecular beam imaging. When the chloride ions have sufficient velocity, the energy of the resulting iodide ions after the collision is much lower than expected, and it is theorized that energy is lost as a result of a full roundabout of the methyl group around the iodine atom before the actual displacement takes place.

See also

  • Substitution reaction
    Substitution reaction
    In a substitution reaction, a functional group in a particular chemical compound is replaced by another group. In organic chemistry, the electrophilic and nucleophilic substitution reactions are of prime importance...

  • SN1 reaction
    SN1 reaction
    The SN1 reaction is a substitution reaction in organic chemistry. "SN" stands for nucleophilic substitution and the "1" represents the fact that the rate-determining step is unimolecular...

  • SNi
    SNi
    SNi or Substitution Nucleophilic internal stands for a specific but not often encountered nucleophilic aliphatic substitution reaction mechanism. The name was introduced by Cowdrey et al...

  • Nucleophilic aromatic substitution
    Nucleophilic aromatic substitution
    right|300px|Aromatic nucleophilic substitutionA nucleophilic aromatic substitution is a substitution reaction in organic chemistry in which the nucleophile displaces a good leaving group, such as a halide, on an aromatic ring...

  • Nucleophilic acyl substitution
    Nucleophilic acyl substitution
    Nucleophilic acyl substitution describes the substitution reaction involving nucleophiles and acyl compounds. Acyl compounds are carboxylic acid derivatives including esters, amides and acid halides...

  • Neighbouring group participation
    Neighbouring group participation
    Neighbouring group participation or NGP in organic chemistry has been defined by IUPAC as the interaction of a reaction centre with a lone pair of electrons in an atom or the electrons present in a sigma bond or pi bond . When NGP is in operation it is normal for the reaction rate to be increased...

  • Finkelstein reaction
    Finkelstein reaction
    The Finkelstein reaction, named for the German chemist Hans Finkelstein , is an SN2 reaction that involves the exchange of one halogen atom for another...

  • Christopher Kelk Ingold
    Christopher Kelk Ingold
    Sir Christopher Kelk Ingold FRS was a British chemist based in Leeds and London. His groundbreaking work in the 1920s and 1930s on reaction mechanisms and the electronic structure of organic compounds was responsible for the introduction into mainstream chemistry of concepts such as nucleophile,...

  • Arrow pushing
    Arrow pushing
    Arrow pushing or electron pushing is a technique used to describe the progression of organic chemistry reaction mechanisms. In using arrow pushing, "curved arrows" or "curly arrows" are superimposed over the structural formulae of reactants in a chemical equation to show the reaction mechanism...

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