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Steric Hindrance: Effects and Examples

Steric hindrance, a concept central to organic chemistry, arises from the physical obstruction caused by bulky groups within a molecule. This obstruction significantly impacts the reactivity and stability of chemical compounds.

By impeding molecular motion and altering bond angles, steric hindrance can influence various processes such as resonance, synthesis, hydrogen bonding, and ion formation.

It plays a crucial role in determining the structure and properties of compounds, affecting everything from the stability of transition states to the formation of products.


Steric hindrance refers to the prevention of molecular interactions due to spatial constraints.

In simpler terms, it’s like having too many people in a small room – they can’t move or interact freely because there isn’t enough space. This concept plays a crucial role in determining the shape and properties of molecules.

Importance of Steric Hindrance

Knowing about steric hindrance helps us predict what happens in reactions. When molecules react, their shapes and sizes can impact how they interact.

If two molecules have bulky groups that get in the way of each other, they may not be able to come together and react as easily.

Here are some key points about steric hindrance:

Steric Hindrance:

  • Prevents molecular interactions due to spatial constraints.

  • Can be caused by bulky groups on molecules.

  • Affects the shape and properties of molecules.

The importance of steric hindrance can be seen in various fields such as organic chemistry, biochemistry, and pharmaceuticals.

For example, when designing drugs, scientists need to consider steric hindrance to ensure that the drug molecule can bind properly with its target receptor without any hindrance from other parts of the molecule.

Factors Affecting Steric Hindrance

Steric hindrance, also known as steric effect, is influenced by various factors that impact the size and shape of substituents. Electron density around atoms can play a role in determining the extent of steric hindrance. Let’s explore these factors further.

Size and Shape of Substituents

The size and shape of substituents attached to a molecule can significantly affect steric hindrance.

When bulky groups such as methyl or tert-butyl are present, they can create physical obstacles that hinder molecular interactions. These bulky groups take up more space, making it difficult for other molecules or functional groups to approach or react with them.

Electron Density and Steric Hindrance

Electron density around atoms within a molecule can also influence steric hindrance.

If there is high electron density in certain regions, it can lead to repulsive interactions with other molecules or functional groups. This repulsion hinders their ability to approach or interact effectively.

Influence of Different Functional Groups

Different functional groups exhibit varying degrees of steric hindrance due to their unique structural characteristics.

For example, aromatic rings tend to have less steric hindrance compared to aliphatic chains because the ring structure allows for better spatial arrangement of atoms.

Examples of Steric Hindrance in Intramolecular Reactions

Ring Strain in Cyclic Compounds

Ring strain in cyclic compounds can lead to increased steric hindrance. When a molecule forms a ring, the atoms are forced into a fixed position, which can create tension within the ring structure.

This strain causes the atoms to be closer together than they would be in an open chain, resulting in increased steric hindrance. For example, cyclopropane is highly strained due to its small ring size and experiences significant steric effects.

Bulky Substituents and Conformational Changes

Bulky substituents attached to molecules can hinder rotation around single bonds, affecting conformational changes. When there are large groups attached to a molecule, they take up more space and make it difficult for the molecule to adopt different conformations.

This limitation can impact intramolecular reactions that rely on conformational changes for their mechanism. An example is found in acetal formation, where bulky substituents hinder the rotation of the alcohol group around the carbon-oxygen bond.

Crowded Environments and Steric Effects

Intramolecular reactions that occur in crowded environments often experience significant steric effects. When there are multiple functional groups or substituents present within close proximity to each other, they can interfere with each other’s movement during a reaction.

This interference leads to steric hindrance and affects the reaction outcome. One such example is metathesis reactions involving diols, where crowding near the double bond restricts their ability to react efficiently.

Steric hindrance plays a crucial role in intramolecular reactions by influencing molecular shape and reactivity.

Understanding how ring strain, bulky substituents, and crowded environments affect steric hindrance can help chemists predict reaction outcomes and design more efficient synthetic routes.

Significance of Steric Hindrance in Chemical Reactions

Steric hindrance plays a crucial role in chemical reactions, influencing reaction rates and determining regioselectivity and stereoselectivity. Let’s delve into the significance of steric hindrance in more detail.

Influencing Reaction Rates

Steric hindrance affects the accessibility of reactants, impacting how quickly a reaction takes place. When bulky groups are present around a reactive site, they can hinder other molecules from approaching and reacting with it.

This results in slower reaction rates due to decreased reactant accessibility.

Regioselectivity and Stereoselectivity

Steric hindrance also determines regioselectivity and stereoselectivity in many reactions. Regioselectivity refers to the preference for one region or position over another in a molecule during a reaction.

Stereoselectivity, on the other hand, relates to the preference for specific spatial arrangements or stereochemistry.

Controlling Steric Factors

Chemists can manipulate reaction outcomes by controlling steric factors.

By modifying the size and shape of functional groups attached to reactants or catalysts, they can influence the extent of steric hindrance experienced by reactants. This control allows chemists to selectively direct reactions towards desired products.

For example:

  • In certain reactions, introducing bulkier substituents at specific positions can enhance regioselectivity.

  • Modifying catalysts with sterically demanding ligands can promote the selective formation of particular stereoisomers.

Understanding steric hindrance is essential for designing efficient synthetic routes and predicting reaction outcomes accurately. By considering the impact of steric factors on reactivity, chemists can optimize conditions and tailor reactions to their desired specifications.

Applications of Steric Hindrance in Organic Chemistry

Designing Catalysts with Specific Shapes

In organic chemistry, steric hindrance plays a crucial role in designing catalysts with specific shapes. By controlling the selectivity through steric effects, chemists can manipulate the outcome of reactions.

For example, when working with alkene molecules, catalysts can be designed to have bulky groups that sterically hinder certain positions on the molecule, leading to selective reactions at desired sites.

This allows chemists to fine-tune their synthetic processes and obtain the desired products more efficiently.

Strategic Use of Protecting Groups

Steric hindrance also finds application in the strategic use of protecting groups. Protecting groups are temporary modifications added to specific functional groups within a molecule to prevent unwanted reactions from occurring during synthetic processes.

By strategically placing bulky protecting groups around reactive sites, chemists can shield them from reacting prematurely or undergoing undesired transformations. This enables better control over chemical reactions and increases overall synthetic efficiency.

Optimization of Drug Design

Steric considerations are vital in drug design as well. When developing new pharmaceutical compounds, scientists analyze the interaction between potential drugs and their target receptors.

By incorporating steric hindrance into drug molecules, researchers can optimize binding affinity and specificity towards the target receptor while minimizing interactions with other off-target receptors.

This ensures that the drug selectively binds to its intended target and reduces potential side effects.


We started by defining steric hindrance and highlighting its importance in organic chemistry. We then delved into the various factors that affect steric hindrance, including molecular size, shape, and substituents.

Next, we examined examples of steric hindrance in intramolecular reactions, showcasing how it can impact reaction rates and product formation.

We also discussed the broader significance of steric hindrance in chemical reactions, such as its role in controlling regioselectivity and stereoselectivity.

Finally, we explored some practical applications of steric hindrance in organic chemistry, ranging from designing selective catalysts to developing drugs with improved pharmacokinetic properties.

By understanding the role of steric hindrance in chemical reactions, researchers can make informed decisions when designing new molecules or optimizing reaction conditions.

It is crucial to consider how steric hindrance influences reactivity and selectivity to achieve desired outcomes efficiently.


What are some common examples of steric hindrance?

Steric hindrance can occur when bulky substituents or groups are present on a molecule’s structure. Examples include tert-butyl groups (t-Bu), which have a significant impact due to their large size and hindered rotational freedom. Other examples include cyclohexane rings with axial substituents or crowded environments around reactive centers.

How does steric hindrance affect reaction rates?

Steric hindrance can slow down reaction rates by impeding reactant access to reactive sites or increasing collision energies required for effective collisions. Bulky substituents can create sterically crowded environments that hinder reactant approach or destabilize transition states.

Can steric hindrance influence product formation?

Yes, sterically hindered molecules often exhibit different product distributions compared to unhindered counterparts. Steric hindrance can dictate regioselectivity, determining which positions of a molecule are preferentially involved in reactions. It can also control stereoselectivity, influencing the formation of specific stereoisomers.

How is steric hindrance relevant in drug design?

Steric hindrance plays a crucial role in drug design by influencing pharmacokinetic properties such as absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME). Incorporating appropriate steric features helps optimize drug-receptor interactions, improve selectivity, and enhance therapeutic efficacy.

Can steric hindrance be used to control polymer properties?

Yes, steric hindrance is often utilized to manipulate polymer properties. By introducing bulky side groups or substituents onto polymer chains, researchers can control factors like solubility, crystallinity, mechanical strength, and thermal stability.

Is steric hindrance always undesirable in chemical reactions?

No, sterically hindered molecules can have both positive and negative effects on chemical reactions. While excessive steric hindrance may impede reactivity or limit product formation in some cases, it can also provide valuable selectivity or stability advantages in others. The key lies in understanding how to harness its effects appropriately for specific applications.

How does steric hindrance affect catalyst performance?

Steric hindrance can significantly impact catalyst performance by influencing substrate accessibility to the active site and controlling reaction pathways. In some cases, bulky ligands or catalysts with appropriate steric features can enhance selectivity or prevent unwanted side reactions.