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The difference between alcohol and ethanol

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The difference between alcohol and ethanol is simple. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the only type of alcohol that, with some degree of dilution, can be drunk without having immediate severe consequences on the body. It can be drunk in moderate amounts if it has not been denatured and does not contain toxic impurities. Ethanol is also called grain alcohol because it is produced by the fermentation of cereal grains.

The term alcohol refers to a type of chemical compound. They are the compounds that have a hydroxyl functional group, which is made up of an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom, attached to a carbon atom. Ethanol (C 2 H 6 O) is composed of two carbon atoms joined by a single bond (in blue in the figure); one of these carbon atoms has its other three bonds occupied by hydrogen atoms (in red in the figure), while the other has two bonds attached to hydrogen atoms and the remaining one to the hydroxyl group (the oxygen atom in gray in the figure). the figure).

The ethanol molecule. The ethanol molecule.

Other types of alcohol

Chemistry recognizes three main types of alcohol: ethanol, methanol or methyl alcohol, and isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol. It should be noted that if a specific alcohol is required for a job or project, it is important not to replace it with another alcohol, since they all have different properties. This is especially important if the alcohol is to be used in food, drugs, or cosmetics since some alcohols, such as methanol, are toxic.

An alcohol in the chemical name is recognized by the ending ol . Some alcohols may have names beginning with the prefix hydroxy , if the molecule has a higher priority functional group than hydroxyl.

Ethyl alcohol was given the name ethanol in 1892 by combining the word ethane , the name of the two-carbon chain, and the –ol ending for an alcohol. The common names for methyl alcohol, methanol, and for isopropyl alcohol, isopropanol, follow the same rule.

In conclusion, ethanol is an alcohol, but not all alcohols are ethanol.


  • Francisco Garcia Ortiz, Mario Gil Muela, Pedro Pablo Garcia Ortiz. drinks . Editorial Paraninfo, 2003.
  • National Institute of Safety and Health at Work of Spain. Properties of alcohols . Revised in July 2021.