Elimination (E1) with 1,2-alkyl shift

by James

Description: When secondary (or primary) carbocations are formed adjacent to a quaternary carbon, 1,2-alkyl shifts can occur.

Notes: The acids in these reactions is often sulfuric acid (H2SO4) or tosic acid (TsOH) because the conjugate base of these acids are very poor nucleophiles.


Notes: In the first and second cases a methyl group shifts over by one carbon (in the second example, silver nitrate  AgNO3 (-) is a Lewis acid that makes halides such as Br better leaving groups).

In the third example the cyclobutane ring expands to give the five-membered ring, which has less ring strain.

In the fourth example the ring expands to form a seven-membered ring from a six-membered ring (recall that primary carbocations are unstable relative to secondary carbocations).

Mechanism: Formation of a carbocation is achieved here through protonation of the alcohol with strong acid (Step 1, arrows A and B) followed by loss of water to give the carbocation (Step 2, arrow C) . Next, migration of a methyl group from the adjacent quaternary carbon through a transition state such as that pictured (Step 3, arrow D) gives a tertiary carbocation which undergoes deprotonation (Step 4, arrows E and F) to form the most substituted alkene (between C-2 and C-3)


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


Hi its very good site where I have sort out my many problems.but in 1,2 alkyl shift I just want to confirm is alkyl shift takes place for for stability of carbocation.pls clear me.



you are cleared.


Pankaj Vidh

About the last example…..why would a six-membered ring expand to form a seven-memebered ring? Wouldn’t a seven-mebered ring have more angle-strain?



There isn’t a strong driving force for the formation of the seven membered ring, but it’s not completely inaccessible. Seven membered rings don’t have significantly prohibitive angle strain.


Mike Harkins

How would a benzene ring come into play in sn1 e1 mechanisms? More specifically 1-(1-chloroethly)-3-methly benzene? Is it possible for the ring to expand? Will allylic resonance help with rearranging the carbocation and ultimately produce more products? Thank you



Not at all in terms of ring expansion/contraction. Sometimes the benzene ring can perform what is known as “neighbouring group participation” where it helps to remove the leaving group, but that’s only covered in rare cases. Would need to see the exact molecule you’re talking about.



In last example. Is stability occure due to formation of tropylium ion formation



No, the tropylium ion has 3 double bonds.



What is there is no leaving group and it is just a carbon chain? will the reaction still occur?


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