Return to Contents Chapter 3: Conformations of Alkanes and Cycloalkanes  Ch 3 contents

What are Conformational Isomers ?

In Chapter 1 we looked at constitutional isomers and we started to grow "an isomer tree".  We now need to grow the next branch in order to start our investigation of conformational isomers.   If you "click" on the named boxes there is a link to a definition and an example.

Types of Isomer tree


Isomers are compounds with the same molecular formulae but that are structurally different in some way. It is important to be able to recognise isomers because they can have different chemical, physical properties and biological properties.



Constitutional isomers differ in the order in which the atoms are connected so they can contain different functional groups and / or bonding patterns (e.g. branching)

  • example: 1-propanol, 2-propanol and ethyl methyl ether (C3H8O)


Stereoisomers have the same functional groups and connectivities, they differ only in the arrangement of atoms and bonds in space.



Conformational isomers (or conformers or rotational isomers or rotamers) are stereoisomers produced by rotation (twisting) about σ bonds, and are often rapidly interconverting at room temperature.

  • example 1: butane : anti (left) and syn (center). Rotation about the C2-C3 σ bond is animated (right). Try rotating the model to look along the C-C to see the two extreme forms.

  • example 2: cyclohexane : chair (left) and boat (right).These two forms can be interconverted by twisting the ring structure.


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organic chemistry © Dr. Ian Hunt, Department of Chemistry University of Calgary