Inorganic means not organic. In biology, they are compounds such as water, minerals, acids, bases and salts that are found in the structure of living things but are not living things or are not produced by a living thing.


According to the information on wikipedia, inorganic compounds cannot be synthesized by living things. So why is water an inorganic compound? Water can be produced by cells as a result of respiration.

Edit: It turned out that the information in Turkish wikipedia was wrong. This information is given correctly in English wikipedia.

Edit 2: The website below contains information similar to that in our textbooks. I quote:

The chemicals that living things produced had been called organic since they came from organisms. Those that were obtainable from non-living things had been called inorganic, meaning “not organic”. This was the fundamental boundary that defined organic from inorganic compounds.

Inorganic compounds were thought of as compounds that were not derived from organisms. They may be derived, for instance, from geological systems, e.g. sediments and ores.

This belief had long been held for many centuries until Friedrich Wöhler (1800 – 1882) disputed it with empirical evidence from his experiments. In one of his experiments, he found out that urea, which was once thought to be produced only by living things, could be produced from inorganic precursors. He discovered in 1828 that urea could be chemically produced from salts potassium cyanate and ammonium sulfate. This is considered a crucial turning point that later led to the rise of modern organic chemistry.

Here he clearly provides evidence that organic compounds can be produced from inorganic compounds. There were people who explained this in the questions and answers. However, he argues that inorganic compounds are obtained from inanimate objects. He even argues that the word inorganic got this name because it is produced from inanimate objects.


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Last Edit: I have compiled the information I collected and corrected here. In addition to the answers below, you can check this text to convey accurate information. We know that organic compounds are no longer produced only in the nature of living things, but can also be produced in laboratory environments. We know that inorganic compounds can be produced by both living and non-living entities or in the laboratory.

The basic structure of all living things consists of inorganic compounds as well as organic compounds called carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. Organic contain compounds carbon and hydrogen elements in their structure. In addition to these elements, organic compounds may also contain elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. (CO2 is one of the rare inorganic compounds containing carbon.) Scientists believed that organic compounds were completely synthesized by living things, but urea, which is organic in the laboratory, was produced by inorganic compounds. It has been revealed that organic compounds can be obtained in laboratory environments other than living things. The main source of organic compounds is living organisms. Inorganic compounds can be found in the structure of living things and in nature, they can be produced by living things or in laboratory environments, their main source is minerals in nature. Inorganic compounds are compounds that do not contain carbon as a major element. These compounds participate in the structure of living things. It can pass through the cell membrane without being digested.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The premise of the title question is wrong. They synthetize inorganic compounds like H2O or CO2 routinely. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Mar 4 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ The title I gave is quoted from wikipedia information. If you pay attention, it is stated this way in the text I quoted. $\endgroup$ Mar 4 at 12:50
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ If Wikipedia says nonsense, then it is still nonsense. $\endgroup$ Mar 4 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ @IvanNeretin Well, can I ask one more question? Is the element oxygen inorganic? I'm sure it's not organic, but can we call it inorganic? $\endgroup$ Mar 4 at 12:53
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Inorganic compounds can be synthesized all right. Water is inorganic. Carbon dioxide is inorganic. Elemental oxygen, for that matter, is inorganic too. The distinction between organic and inorganic compounds is mostly arbitrary. $\endgroup$ Mar 4 at 12:58

3 Answers 3


As humans are breathing biosynthetized $\ce{CO2}$ and $\ce{H2O}$, both being inorganic compounds, it negates the title question premise.

The term organic has at least three distinguished meanings:

  • Organic (compound) in the organic chemistry context means a compound with molecules containing carbon, with enumerated exceptions as below.
  • Organic (element) in context of chemical analysis means an inventory term about the forms of element occurence. E.g. if water sample contains 40% of all carbon as organic carbon, it means that 40% of carbon is present in structures of organic molecules, or even in inorganic compounds contained in living thing tissues. The key is, it is not floating around as simple inorganic molecules/ions/particle, but is captured.
  • Organic (biologically natural) in context of biology, life style, nutrition means being produced by natural processes involving living things and processing without involving explicit man-made chemicals not present in living things. Involving chemicals produced by living things can be questionable.

Wikipedia - Organic_compound - Definitions_of_organic_vs_inorganic

For historical reasons discussed below, a few types of carbon-containing compounds, such as carbides, carbonates (excluding carbonate esters), simple oxides of carbon (for example, CO and CO2), and cyanides are generally considered inorganic. Different forms (allotropes) of pure carbon, such as diamond, graphite, fullerenes, and carbon nanotubes are also excluded because they are simple substances composed of only a single element and therefore are not generally considered to be chemical compounds.

The word "organic" in this context does not mean "natural."

Initially, scientists thought organic compounds were unique to living things. Inorganic compounds could be created by whatever way.

Later, the boundary got complicated, starting with synthesis of urea that was considered as organic compound. The original criteria is not used any more.

Currently, as organic compounds are considered all compounds containing carbon, with short list of enumerated exceptions like carbides, simple carbon oxides, carbonates, metal carbonyls, cyanides, cyanates and few other simple compounds.

To say it explicitly, being an organic molecule has no direct relation to being created by living things, being matter of chemistry convention.

Inorganic water and organic acetic acid can be synthesized both in living things and by chemical reactions excluding living things

Notes to comments:

A used terminology mismatch is the cause of most miunderstandings.

What is said on the provided table is partially true, what is the most serious kind of errors, mistakes or misinterpretations ( and of lies too, but that is another story).

The matter categorization organic/inorganic in a biological way and a chemistry way, they do not exactly overlap. There are not 2 categories but 4 categories. chem/bio-organic, chem-organic-bio-inorganic, chem-inorganic-bio-organic, chem/bio-inorganic.

In chemistry context, a compound being organic or not depends on what the compound is, not on what is the compound origin.


Is Organic(biology) Is Organic(chemistry) Example
Yes Yes Proteins, DNA, monosacharides, aminoacids, nucletides, lipids
Yes No Biogenic $\ce{H2O, CO2, NH4+, NO, HCO3-, HPO4^2-}$ within living things
No Yes Man-made organics, like pesticides, chemical weapons, plastics
No No Materials not containing carbon, product of nature processes or human activity

Saying Organic substances are synthesized by living things, unlike inorganics ones., is true just partially, for blatantly obvious cases.

And it seems misinterpreted.

  • It focuses on the fact substances like proteins, DNA, sacharides and fat are formed in living things only.
  • It does not try to say living things do not synthesize inorganic substances found in nature.

[OP] If living things cannot synthesize inorganic compounds, why is H2O an inorganic compound?

Living things are able to synthesize inorganic compounds.

[OP] According to the information on wikipedia, inorganic compounds cannot be synthesized by living things.

The English Wikipedia article does not make this claim. If my Turkish were better, I would edit the article you cite to improve it. I encourage anyone else capable to do so.

So why is water an inorganic compound? Water can be produced by cells as a result of respiration.

The historic definition of "organic compound" was a compound that could not be synthesized in a lab, and one that wasn't found in environments that lack life. "Inorganic compound" was the opposite - compounds you could make in a lab, irrespective if they are also made by metabolic processes. If I had more time, I'd draw a Venn diagram.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Chemistry Meta, or in Chemistry Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn
    Mar 6 at 8:00


Long ago there was the believe that organic and inorganic matter was inherently different, because organic matter was believed to contain "live force", which was believed to be some substance or energy.

For Chemistry, at least, this is not true.

But it resulted in the naming of organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry.

Not sure if the definition changed since I heard it, but organic chemistry is anything with a covalent C-H-bound, and inorganic chemistry is everything else.

There is up to now no evidence of anything like "live force" or "vital energy".


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