Electrophiles and Nucleophiles - Definition, Types, Examples, Differences (2023)

Before we delve into learning about electrophiles and nucleophiles, let us quickly recall what an attacking reagent is. The species that attacks a substrate molecule or intermediate and forms a product is called an attacking reagent. It is of two types:

  • Electrophilic reagents or electrophiles
  • Nucleophilic reagents or nucleophiles

Thus, electrophiles and nucleophiles are those types of chemical species that either donate or accept electrons to form a new chemical bond. Moreover, the reaction mechanism occurring between electron donors and acceptors is best described by concepts of electrophile and nucleophile. These are the most important concepts in organic chemistry. They were introduced in the year 1933 and replaced the older terms, such as cationoid and anionoid.

What Is Electrophile?

The word electrophile is made from “electro”, derived from electron and “phile”, which means loving.

Any molecule, ion or atom that is deficient in electrons in some manner can act as an electrophile. In other words, the reagent which attacks the negative of the molecule or loves electrons is called electrophile. They are generally positively charged or neutral species (electron-deficient molecules) with empty orbitals. Electrophiles can accept a couple of electrons.

Also Read:Electrophilic Substitution Reaction

Points to Remember:

  • They are electron deficient, and they tend to be attracted towards electrons.
  • They are either positively or neutrally charged.
  • They attack electron-rich areas such as carbon-carbon double bonds.
  • The movement of electrons is affected by the density, and the movement is generally from a high-density area to a low-density area.
  • Favour electrophilic addition and electrophilic substitution reactions.
  • They are also called Lewis acids because they accept electrons.
  • Electrophiles are involved in electrophilic substitution and addition reactions.

Types of Electrophiles

The different types of electrophiles can be classified as follows:

1. Positively Charged Electrophiles:

H+, SO3H+, NO+, NO2+, X+, R+ , C6H5N2+, C+2H-OH, CH3 C+ =O

2. Neutral Electrophiles: They showcase electron deficiency.

(a) All Lewis acids: BF3, AlCl3, SO3, ZnCl2, BeCl2, FeCl3, SnCl2, CO2, SnCl4.

(b) The neutral atom that accepts electrons from the substrates:

> *C = O, R *COCl, R – * Mg – X, *I – Cl, CH3 – *CN, R*–Cl, R*–O,

Electrophiles and Nucleophiles - Definition, Types, Examples, Differences (1)

The star (*) indicates the atom that accepts electrons.

(c) Free radicals, carbenes and nitrene act as electrophiles.

(d) Species with electrophilic centre:

Electrophiles and Nucleophiles - Definition, Types, Examples, Differences (2)

Important information about electrophiles:

  • Hydronium ion carries a positive charge, but due to the presence of full vacantorbitalsinitsoutershell,itdoesnotqualifytobeanelectrophile.
  • In the case of ammonium ion, it does not have vacant orbitals to attract electrons. So, ammonium ion is not classified as electrophiles.

What Is Nucleophile?

A nucleophile is a reactant which gives an electron pair to form a covalent bond. A nucleophile is usually charged negatively or is neutral with a lone couple of donatable electrons. H2O, -OMe or -OtBu are some examples. Overall, the electron-rich species is a nucleophile.

The word nucleophile is made from two words “Nucleo”, derived from the nucleus and “phile”, which means loving. Species that attack the positive side of the substrate or love the nucleus are called nucleophiles.

Nucleophiles donate unshared electron pairs, and they act as Lewis bases, according to Lewis notion of acids and bases.

Also Read:Nucleophilic Substitution Reaction

Points to Remember:

  • They consist of electrons and are attracted towards the nucleus. They are either negatively or neutrally charged.
  • They are donors of electrons.
  • Electrons move from low-density areas to high-density areas.
  • They support nucleophilic addition and nucleophilic substitution reactions.
  • They are also called Lewis bases.

Types of Nucleophiles

The different types of nucleophiles can be classified as follows:

1. Negatively Charged Nucleophiles:

Electrophiles and Nucleophiles - Definition, Types, Examples, Differences (3)

2. All Lewis base which contain lone pairs:

Electrophiles and Nucleophiles - Definition, Types, Examples, Differences (4)

The star (*) indicates the atom which donates electrons to the substrate.

3. Ambident Nucleophile:

Nucleophiles have two sites of electron-rich centre, or in which two or more atoms bear an unshared pair of electrons.

For example,

Electrophiles and Nucleophiles - Definition, Types, Examples, Differences (5)

Resonating structures are also ambient nucleophiles.

4. Amphiphile Nucleophile: A molecule containing multiple bonds between carbon and a more electronegative atom can act both as electrophiles or nucleophiles.

For example,

Electrophiles and Nucleophiles - Definition, Types, Examples, Differences (6)

Also Read:Electrophilic and Nucleophilic addition reaction

Difference between Electrophile and Nucleophile

To make you understand how electrophile and nucleophile are different from each other, here are some major differences between them:

Accepts the electron pairSupplies the electron pair
These can be either positively charged or neutral speciesThey can be either negatively charged or neutral species
Possess an empty orbital to receive the electron pairPossess an electron pair which is loosely held and can be supplied easily
Attacks the points of high electron densityAttacks the point of low electron density
They are known as Lewis acids, as they can accept a pair of electronsThese are known as Lewis bases, as they can donate a pair of electrons
Forms an extra bond with the nucleophileIncreases its covalency by one unit
Example: All positively charged species such as H+, NO2+, electron-deficient species such as BF3, AlCl3Example: All negatively charged species such as OH, CN, electron-rich species H2O, NH3

Solved Questions

Q1. Which of the following molecules and ions are electrophilic?

















Solution: C, E, F

Q2. Which of the following molecules and ions are nucleophilic?

















Solution: B, D, E, G, H

Q3. Which of the following compounds is the best nucleophile?


Solution: CH3S

Explanation: It is the best nucleophile because it has a negative charge (more electron density), and its electrons are held less tightly than those of CH3O− because sulphur is less electronegative than oxygen.

Q4. Which of the following is the strongest nucleophile?


Solution: CH3TeH

Explanation: Here, O, Se, S, and Te all belong to the same group 6. As we know, the size increases down the group; therefore, the electronegativity decreases. Due to this, the atoms can lose electrons more easily. So, there are stronger nucleophiles at the bottom of the group, and CH3TeH is the strongest nucleophile.

Q5. What will be the correct order of increasing the nucleophilic strength of the given compounds?

Solution: IV, I, III, II

Explanation: Here, two species are negatively charged, and the other two are neutral species. Negatively charged species are always more nucleophilic than neutral species. When water and ammonia are compared, the nucleophilic strength of ammonia is more than water because of the higher electronegativity of oxygen than nitrogen.

Lesser electronegativity will make electrons more readily available, therefore, a stronger nucleophile. Out of Cl and F, F is a stronger nucleophile. This is exceptional to the expected trend. Fluoride ions would be expected to have less nucleophilic strength than chloride ions as the electronegativity of fluorine is more than chlorine. But the electron density of the chloride ion is more evenly distributed due to its bigger size hence is more stabilised as compared to the fluoride ion.

Therefore, the correct order will be IV, I, III, II.

Q6. Which of the following will be the strongest nucleophile in a nonpolar solution – I, Br, Cl, F?

Solution: F

Explanation: In non-polar solutions, nucleophilic strength increases with an increase in electronegativity. Here, Fluorine has the highest electronegativity. So, it is the strongest nucleophile.

Q7. The incorrect statement regarding a nucleophile is/are

1. A fluorine ion is an illustration of a nucleophile.

2. Weak acids are strong examples of strong nucleophiles.

3. A strong Arrhenius base is a strong nucleophile.

4. Nucleophiles tend to give electrons for the formation of a bond.

5. None of these.

Solution: None of these

Explanation: Nucleophiles are rich in electron species that can form bonding electrophiles

(electron-deficient species). Strong bases are strong nucleophiles. On the other hand, acids are generally weak nucleophiles.

Q8. The incorrect statement regarding the nucleophiles is /are

I. Negatively charged ions are the strongest nucleophiles.

II. The smaller the size of the molecule, the better is the nucleophile compared to the bigger ions.

III. In polar solvents, bigger atoms are bad nucleophiles.


1. I

2. II

3. II and III

4. III

5. All statements are correct

Solution: III

Explanation: In polar solvents, bigger atoms are good nucleophiles. The bigger the size of the atom, not the molecule, the better the nucleophile (I>Br>Cl>F). The radius of atoms increases down the group. Nucleophilic strength depends on the strength of the anion. For example, HI is a strong acid, and therefore, it has a weak conjugate base.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


What is the difference between electrophiles and nucleophiles?

Electrophiles are electron-deficient species. They are either positively charged or neutral species.
Nucleophiles are electron-rich species. They are either negatively charged or neutral species.
For example, NO2+, F, Br, Cl CH3+


What is an electrophilic substitution reaction?

An electrophilic substitution reaction is a reaction in which a chemical group is displaced by an electrophile. Friedel Craft’s acylation and alkylation are popular examples of electrophilic substitution reactions.


What is meant by nucleophilic substitution reaction?

A nucleophilic substitution reaction is a reaction in which a nucleophile attacks an electron-deficient centre or an electrophile and displaces it. For example, alkyl bromide hydrolysis is an example of a nucleophilic substitution reaction.


Are alkenes nucleophiles or electrophiles?

Alkenes are electron-rich species and hence are nucleophiles.


Are alkanes nucleophiles or electrophiles?

Alkanes are neither nucleophilic nor electrophilic in nature. They are stable, unreactive molecules.


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