The Difference Between Organic and Inorganic

Organic Versus Inorganic in Chemistry

Examples of Organic and Inorganic Coupounds
Illustration by Hugo Lin. ThoughtCo.

The word "organic" means something very different in chemistry than it does when you're talking about produce and food. Organic compounds and inorganic compounds form the basis of chemistry. The primary difference between organic compounds and inorganic compounds is that organic compounds always contain carbon while most inorganic compounds do not contain carbon. Also, nearly all organic compounds contain carbon-hydrogen or C-H bonds. Note, containing carbon is not sufficient for a compound to be considered organic! Look for both carbon and hydrogen.

Organic and inorganic chemistry are two of the main disciplines of chemistry. An organic chemist studies organic molecules and reactions, while an inorganic chemistry focuses on inorganic reactions.

Examples of Organic Compounds or Molecules

Molecules associated with living organisms are organic. These include nucleic acids, fats, sugars, proteins, enzymes and hydrocarbon fuels. All organic molecules contain carbon, nearly all contain hydrogen, and many also contain oxygen.

  • DNA
  • table sugar or sucrose, C12H22O11
  • benzene, C6H6
  • methane, CH4
  • ethanol or grain alcohol, C2H6O

Examples of Inorganic Compounds

Inorganics include salts, metals, substances made from single elements and any other compounds that don't contain carbon bonded to hydrogen. Some inorganic molecules do, in fact, contain carbon.

  • table salt or sodium chloride, NaCl
  • carbon dioxide, CO2
  • diamond (pure carbon)
  • silver
  • sulfur

Organic Compounds Without C-H Bonds

There are few organic compounds that don't contain carbon-hydrogen bonds. Examples of these exceptions include:

  • carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)
  • urea [CO(NH2)2]

Organic Compounds and Life

While most organic compounds encountered in chemistry are produced by living organisms, it's possible for the molecules to form through other processes. For example, when scientists talk about organic molecules discovered on Pluto, this doesn't mean there are aliens on the world. Solar radiation can provide energy to produce organic compounds from inorganic carbon compounds.