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Organic Chemistry Text Book (CHEM 3401 and 3402)

20.7.3e Dehydration of Amides

Amides are very polar, thanks to the n-π conjugation of the nitrogen non-bonded electron pair with the carbonyl group. This delocalization substantially reduces the basicity of these compounds (pKa ca. –1) compared with amines (pKa ca. 11). When electrophiles bond to an amide, they do so at the oxygen atom in preference to the nitrogen. As shown below, the oxygen-bonded conjugate acid is stabilized by resonance charge delocalization; whereas, the nitrogen-bonded analog is not. One practical application of this behavior lies in the dehydration of 1º-amides to nitriles by treatment with thionyl chloride. This reaction is also illustrated in the following diagram. Other dehydrating agents such as P2O5 effect the same transformation.