There are milions of chemical compounds and each one has its name. But some have more than one or more than two. An example of this is the well-known TNT.

Although nowadays there is a system to name compounds according to specific rules, in the past their names were chosen quite randomly. The names that follow the current rules have the property of describin the exact structure of compounds and are called systematic names. The names that don’t follow the rules do not describe the structures and are called trivial names.

TNT names ELCB
The fragments in the structure and their names are marked in the same colour

All compounds have a systematic name. It might happen that they have more than one if their structure is complex and it can be described using different fragments. Conversely, not all compounds have a trivial name. TNT is an example of a compound with different names:

  • trinitrotoluene
  • 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
  • 1-methyl-2,4,6-trinitrobenzene
  • trilite (trivial name)
  • TNT (abbreviation)

Trinitrotoluene is a simplification of 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (read two four six trinitrotoluene, commas or hyphens not said) and the abbreviation TNT comes from this systematic name. This name tells that there are three nitro groups (-NO2) in posicions the 2, 4 and 6 of toluene. The systematic name 1-methyl-2,4,6-trinitrobenzene uses different fragments, separating the methyl group (-CH3) from the benzene ring, which together are called toluene.

Trinitrotoluene is a yellow solid that melts at 82 ºC. It can be dissolved in alcohol, but not in water. It is a safe explosive because it won’t explode at room temperature without a detonator. Less known is its application in synthesising colourants.

These names and many more can be found (next to the Catalan and Spanish equivalents) in the chemistry dictionary edited by TERMCAT and myself.

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