IR Spectroscopy Tutorial: Carboxylic Acids

Carboxylic acids show a strong, wide band for the O–H stretch. Unlike the O–H stretch band observed in alcohols, the carboxylic acid O–H stretch appears as a very broad band in the region 3300-2500 cm-1, centered at about 3000 cm-1. This is in the same region as the C–H stretching bands of both alkyl and aromatic groups. Thus a carboxylic acid shows a somewhat "messy" absorption pattern in the region 3300-2500 cm-1, with the broad O–H band superimposed on the sharp C–H stretching bands. The reason that the O–H stretch band of carboxylic acids is so broad is becase carboxylic acids usually exist as hydrogen-bonded dimers.

The carbonyl stretch C=O of a carboxylic acid appears as an intense band from 1760-1690 cm-1. The exact position of this broad band depends on whether the carboxylic acid is saturated or unsaturated, dimerized, or has internal hydrogen bonding. See also:

The C–O stretch appears in the region 1320-1210 cm-1, and the O–H bend is in the region 1440-1395 cm-1 and 950-910 cm-1, although the 1440-1395 band may not be distinguishable from C–H bending bands in the same region.


The spectrum of hexanoic acid is shown below. Note the broad peak due to O–H stretch superimposed on the sharp band due to C–H stretch. Note the C=O stretch (1721), C–O stretch (1296), O–H bends (1419, 948), and C–O stretch (1296).