The definition of organic chemistry is rather arbitrary and sometimes it is just a matter of opinion. However, the widely used definition says that :

Organic chemistry is defined as the study of carbon compounds containing usually hydrogen and one or more additional elements like oxygen, nitrogen, halogens and phosphorus etc.

Inorganic chemistry is defined as the chemistry of all elements other than carbon and their compounds.

Even though CO, CO2, H2CO3, metal carbonates, cyanides etc., contain carbon, they are studied under inorganic chemistry due to their resemblance with inorganic compounds.

According to some people an organic compound must contain at least one C-H bond or C-C bond. The major drawback with this definition is that it leaves out some compounds such as CCl4 from the list of organic compounds. Moreover, by this definition CCl4 is inorganic whereas CHCl3 is organic i.e., they come under different category.

Whichever definition of organic compounds you want to use, directly or indirectly they all say that an organic compound must contain at least one carbon.

What makes carbon so special

The catenation property and tetravalent nature of carbon enable it to form structurally diverse compounds.


The ability to form longer chains by linking to atoms of the same element is known as catenation.

Catenation example

Catenation example : formation of propane

3 carbons are linked together to form propane

Catenation example

Catenation example : formation of hexane

6 carbons are linked together to form hexane

Tetravalency of carbon

The atomic number of carbon is 6 and its electronic configuration is 1s22s22p2.

2 unpaired electrons in carbon atom

Tetravalency of carbon example : Ground state carbon

In its excited state, one paired electron from orbital '2s' becomes unpaired and jumps to the '2p' orbital without consuming excessive energy.

Excited state of carbon

Hybridisation example : Ground state carbon

Now, carbon has 4 unpaired electrons.

Clearly, carbon has four unpaired electrons in its excited state and needs four more electrons to be stable. It is very difficult for carbon to either gain or lose four electrons to achieve the nearest inert gas configuration. Thus, carbon always combines with other atoms by mutual sharing of electrons and forms four covalent bonds.

The energy required for the excitation is compensated by the release of energy due to the formation of new compound.

Examples of Tetravalency

Example of Tetracovalency: Methane
Example of Tetracovalency: Carbon tetrachloride