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Organic Chemistry: Imine Formation and Hydrolysis

Updated on May 30, 2012

An imine is a chemical compound with a carbon-nitrogen double bond where the nitrogen is also bonded to a hydrogen or a carbon chain (R can stand for either in this case). It can be formed from a ketone or an aldehyde reacted with ammonia or a primary amine in acid. The reaction is also reversable. I will show the step-by-step mechanism of both the formation and the hydrolysis.


I will use a simple ketone as an example. This could also be a ketone of varying carbon chain length substituents or an aldehyde.

1. First the carbonyl oxygen is protonated.

2. There is a resonance form.

3. The primary amine attacks the carbon with the positive charge. This results in a compound with a positive charge on the nitrogen.

4. Another molecule of ketone will remove one of the hydrogens from the nitrogen. This results in a a tetrahedral intermediate, which in this case is known as a carbinolamine or a hemiaminal.

5. The oxygen is protonated once again, forming a good leaving group (the +OH2).

6. The leaving group leaves, resulting in a positive charge on the central carbon.

7. There is a resonance form.

8. Another molecule of ketone deprotonates the nitrogen. This results in the imine.

Full Mechanism


Now I will show the hydrolysis of an imine in H3O+ and heat. The mechanism is basically the same as the formation but in reverse.

1. First the nitrogen is protonated.

2. There is a resonance form.

3. A water molecule attacks the postively charged central carbon.

4. Another water molecule deprotonates the oxygen, resulting in a tetrahedral intermediate.

5. The nitrogen is protonated, forming a leaving group.

6. The leaving group leaves, resulting in a positive charge on the central carbon.

7. There is a resonance form.

8. A water molecule deprotonates the oxygen. This results in the ketone.

Full Mechanism


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    • profile image


      21 months ago

      Hi, what if the R group attached to nitrogen in imine is t-Bu group. So, how you will do its hydrolysis? I already tried 1M HCl and p-TsOH.H2O, but it did not work. Thanks!

    • sunnykanaparthi profile image

      kanaparthi sunny 

      5 years ago from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

      nice topic.


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