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Yeah I am confused about the above question. Like since textbooks always say how C atom bonded to Mg is very nucleophillic, I was wondering why it does not bond with carbon atom that is single bonded (not the one in carbonyl part) to one of the oxygen atom of ester? Since O atom is more electronegative than C atom, C atom is electrophillic, so shouldn’t grignard reagent also bond with that C atom instead of one double bonded to the other O atom. I always see example where GR reagent attack the carbonyl carbon atom so I was wondering why? Thanks.

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To give you an idea of the nucleophilicity of the two carbons, you may have a look at $\ce{^{13}C}$ NMR data (here for example). These data tell you which carbons have less electron density (the ones which are more deshielded).

On methyl formate, you'd find $\delta_\text{COO} = 161.8$ ppm whereas $\delta_\text{OCH3} = 50.0$ ppm. This should give you a little intuition of how much the electron density is reduced on each carbon, due to the effect of the electronegative atoms. Clearly, the ester-bearing carbon is much more affected, and this accounts for the general behaviour that you encounter.

However, as Ben Norris pointed out, this is maybe a simplistic picture. In fact, it's not impossible to break preferentially the $\ce{COO - C}$ bond. This is called hydrolysis by alkyl-oxygen cleavage (see here).

To get back to the question of Grignard reagent, the problem is also explained by HSAB theory. To attack the carbon which is not bearing the ester, you would generally need a "soft" organometallic compound. I can give you an example that corresponds to what you are asking (reference here: Kawashima et al., Tetrahedron 1989, 45, 403.), but note that this is a special case. What drives the reaction is the opening of a strained ring, and the Grignard is modified by addition of copper halide:

Reaction RMgX and ester

I represented this one in particular to show the regioselectivity (breaking of bond represented in red), but the article shows plenty of examples.

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The thing is, the carbon with that has a double bond and a single bond with oxygen is the most electrophilic. Therefore the Grignard reagent will always choose that carbon every time instead of the other carbon that has only one single bond with oxygen.

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  • $\begingroup$ In practical terms, we know Grignard reagents do not react with ethers since ethers are the most common solvents for said reactions. Ethers are not as electrophilic as you think. You cannot just consider the partial charge at an atom, you also need to consider the strength of whatever bond will be broken upon nucleophilic attack. $\endgroup$ – Ben Norris Feb 3 '17 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ I totally agree with you. Ethers are generally very unreactive. However his query is on esters not on ethers. $\endgroup$ – Linus Choy Feb 3 '17 at 12:33

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