# How should I identify my leaving group in SN1 reactions if there might be more than one option?

Before I can even begin to contemplate the products of a given SN1 reaction, I need to be able to determine what my leaving group will be, which should be a species with a strong conjugate acid, and as I understand it the species should be relatively stable once it has left the substrate. Please correct me if I am making any mistakes in my understanding.

A hydroxide ion will be a terrible leaving group, since its conjugate acid is water, and hydroxide is not very stable by itself.

So when I am asked this question "Draw the major organic product(s) for this SN1 reaction:

How do I know what will be the best leaving group? Hydroxide is not very good, so perhaps $\ce{CH_3OH}$ will work better? How do I know it is not $\ce{CH_3CH_2OH}$ instead?

Is this only one decent option, and I am over thinking this?

• this example, to be honest, is bad since OH is bad leaving group. also, H-Br is used for hydrogenation of alkenes. on the other hand, this Sn1 reaction can be done by first toscilating it with TsCl to make a very good leaving group! – user10075 Nov 30 '14 at 3:01

1. When a leaving group leaves, only one bond is broken. By this logic, $\ce{OH}$ is a leaving group - it can leaving by the breaking of the $\ce{C} -\ce{O}$ bond. The alcohols you mention, $\ce{CH3OH}$ and $\ce{CH3CH2OH}$ require breaking two bonds to leave: the the $\ce{C} -\ce{O}$ bond and a $\ce{C} -\ce{C}$ bond.
2. What is that acid $\ce{H-Br}$ doing? When you are given a strong acid as a reagent, very commonly the first step in the reaction's mechanism is a proton transfer (an acid-base reaction). Proton transfers are very rapid; they often happen before anything else has a chance to. In this case, the proton transfer is also exothermic (or exergonic if you prefer) - the equilibrium constant is on the order of $10^8$ in favor of the products. What does the product of the initial proton transfer look like? Is there a better looking leaving group on that structure?