# Reactivity of Alkanes, Alkenes, and Alkynes

In my textbook, it says that alkanes are generally the least reactive of the three, alkenes are slightly more reactive, and alkynes are even more reactive. However, alkanes have single bonds, alkenes have double bonds, and alkynes have triple bonds. How can the molecule with triple bonds be the most reactive if triple bonds require the most energy to break?

• When you break a triple bond you have to break all three bonds. To convert an alkyne to an alkene you just have to break one bond. – MaxW Mar 19 '16 at 23:06
• You don't always break both pi bonds and a sigma bond in alkyne reactions. The "weaker" pi bonds can react, but the sigma bond often stays intact. – SendersReagent Mar 20 '16 at 1:48
• Tables of bond strengths give you energies for all three bonds together, so they look stronger. The other comments have correctly indicated, the bonds react individually. So the first bond of an alkene to react is more reactive than an alkane, etc. – Lighthart Mar 20 '16 at 4:01

Maybe it will help if you look at reactivity in terms of ability to attract electrons instead of bond enthalpies. Alkanes are $sp^3$ hybridized, and hence have $25$% $s$ orbital character and $75$% p character. $s$ orbitals are closer to the nucleus and thus have a 'contracting' effect on the hybrid orbital. Greater the $s$ character, 'smaller' the hybrid orbital. This means that electrons are more closely packed. Alkanes have only 25% $s$ character, hence the hybrid orbitals are comparatively larger, and the effective nuclear charge on outermost electrons is less. Alkenes ($sp^2$) and alkynes ($sp$) have 33.3% and 50% $s$ character respectively. Thus their hybrid orbitals are SMALLER; i.e. effective nuclear charge is more. This means that it is easier to accept electrons, as now the effective strength of nucleus is more. Hence, alkynes can easily accept electrons, followed by alkenes and then alkanes. Thus, alkynes are most reactive, followed by alkenes and alkanes. Even though increase in $s$ character increases bond enthalpy, but it also increases the electron withdrawing capacity; and it is the latter which predominates.
(In fact, in general, greater the $s$ character, more the electronegativity and more the acidic nature).
• The two $\pi$ systems in alkynes are orthogonal so their energy is not reduced by interaction with each other. Additionally, it is meaningless to say that alkenes are more reactive than alkynes without specifying reactivity towards what. There are reactions that alkenes won't do which alkynes will and vice versa. – bon Jan 11 '17 at 14:02