I have come across the name trihydroxy propane for glycerol, which I think should've been Propan-1,2,3-triol.

Why is it named this way? Is there any other rule of nomenclature working?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It should be propane-1,2,3-triol instead of Propan-1,2,3-triol. Because If there are are more then 1 hydroxyl groups, e is not supposed to be removed.(That's what my text-book says) $\endgroup$
    – Freddy
    Jul 6, 2015 at 6:22

3 Answers 3


Glycerol and trihydroxypropane are common names. The IUPAC name is propane-1,2,3-triol. The common name glycerol comes from the root glyco- which means sweet. Glucose, glycogen, and glycerin (another name for glycerol) have the same etymology.

Trihydroxypropane makes sense as a common name because there are only 3 locations for the hydroxyl groups on the 3 carbon chain, so the name is basically unambiguous - multiple hydroxyl groups on the same carbon are not stable (see geminal diols).

  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanediol $\endgroup$
    – Curt F.
    Jul 6, 2015 at 3:25
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for pointing that out. The geminal diol form is indeed favored for methanediol (as well as a few other compounds) but generally, the carbonyl form is predominant, so it still makes trihydroxypropane a logical common name. $\endgroup$ Jul 6, 2015 at 3:30

Trivial names have stuck around for so long despite their lack of systemization because that's what most people call them including biologists. Think of glyceraldehyde,aniline, pyruvate, toluene etc. There is no choice but to leave these named artifacts as acceptable by IUPAC.


IUPAC nomenclature is intended to be as un-ambiguous as possible. Trihydroxy propane is not unambiguous? Where are the three hydroxy groups. Does it have a geminal diol?

The "1,2,3-" part of the IUPAC name specifies exactly where each -OH is.


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