Benzyl cyanide

Benzyl cyanide (abbreviated BnCN) is an organic compound with the chemical formula C6H5CH2CN. This colorless oily aromatic liquid is an important precursor to numerous compounds in organic chemistry.[2]

Benzyl cyanide
Preferred IUPAC name
Other names
Benzyl cyanide[1]
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.004.919
Molar mass 117.15 g/mol
Appearance Colorless oily liquid
Density 1.015 g/cm3
Melting point −24 °C (−11 °F; 249 K)
Boiling point 233 to 234 °C (451 to 453 °F; 506 to 507 K)
-76.87·10−6 cm3/mol
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Infobox references


Benzyl cyanide can be produced via Kolbe nitrile synthesis between benzyl chloride and sodium cyanide[3] and by oxidative decarboxylation of phenylalanine.[4]

Chemical properties

Benzyl cyanide can be hydrolyzed to give phenylacetic acid[5] or used in the Pinner reaction to yield phenylacetic acid esters.[6] The compound also forms an "active methylene unit" on the carbon between the aromatic ring and the nitrile functional group. This active carbon, referred to as a nitrile anion, is a useful reactive intermediate for the formation of new carbon-carbon bonds.[7][8][9]


Benzyl cyanide is used as a solvent[10] and as a starting material in the synthesis of fungicides,[11] fragrances (phenethyl alcohol), antibiotics,[2] and other pharmaceuticals. The partial hydrolysis of BnCN results in 2-phenylacetamide,[12] a known anticonvulsant.


Benzyl cyanide is a useful precursor to numerous pharmaceuticals. Examples include:


Because benzyl cyanide is a useful precursor to numerous drugs with recreational use potential, many countries strictly regulate the compound.

United States

Benzyl cyanide is regulated in the United States as a DEA List I chemical.


Benzyl cyanide, like related benzyl derivatives, is an irritant to the skin and eyes.[2] It is toxic and produces the deadly poison hydrogen cyanide when burned.


  1. Nomenclature of Organic Chemistry : IUPAC Recommendations and Preferred Names 2013 (Blue Book). Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry. 2014. p. 16. doi:10.1039/9781849733069-FP001. ISBN 978-0-85404-182-4.
  2. Pollak, Peter; Romeder, Gérard; Hagedorn, Ferdinand; Gelbke, Heinz-Peter (2000). "Nitriles". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. doi:10.1002/14356007.a17_363.
  3. Adams, Roger; Thal, A. F. (1922). "Benzyl cyanide". Organic Syntheses. 2: 9. doi:10.15227/orgsyn.002.0009.
  4. Hiegel, Gene; Lewis, Justin; Bae, Jason (2004). "Conversion of α‐Amino Acids into Nitriles by Oxidative Decarboxylation with Trichloroisocyanuric Acid". Synthetic Communications. 34 (19): 3449–3453. doi:10.1081/SCC-200030958.
  5. Adams, Roger; Thal, A. F. (1922). "Phenylacetic acid". Organic Syntheses. 2: 59. doi:10.15227/orgsyn.002.0059.
  6. Adams, Roger; Thal, A. F. (1922). "Ethyl Phenylacetate". Organic Syntheses. 2: 27. doi:10.15227/orgsyn.002.0027.
  7. Makosza, M.; Jonczyk, A (1976). "Phase-Transfer Alkylation of Nitriles: 2-Phenylbutyronitrile". Organic Syntheses. 55: 91. doi:10.15227/orgsyn.055.0091.
  8. Itoh, Masumi; Hagiwara, Daijiro; Kamiya, Takashi (1988). "New Reagent for tert-Butoxycarbonylation: 2-tert-Butoxycarbonyloxyimino-2-phenylacetonitrile". Organic Syntheses. 6: 199. doi:10.15227/orgsyn.059.0095.
  9. Wawzonek, Stanley; Smolin, Edwin M. (1955). "α-Phenylcinnamonitrile". Organic Syntheses. 3: 715. doi:10.15227/orgsyn.029.0083.
  10. Bien, Hans-Samuel; Stawitz, Josef; Wunderlich, Klaus (2000). "Anthraquinone Dyes and Intermediates". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry: 29. doi:10.1002/14356007.a02_355.
  11. Ackermann, Peter; Margot, Paul; Müller, Franz (2000). "Fungicides, Agricultural". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. doi:10.1002/14356007.a12_085.
  12. "PHENYLACETAMIDE". Organic Syntheses. 32: 92. 1952. doi:10.15227/orgsyn.032.0092. ISSN 0078-6209.
  13. William Andrew Publishing (2008). Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). Norwich, NY: Elsevier Science. pp. 182, 936, 1362, 1369, 1505, 2036, 2157, 2259, 2554, 2620, 2660, 2670, 2924, 3032, & 3410. ISBN 9780815515265.
  14. Berkoff, Charles E.; Rivard, Donald E.; Kirkpatrick, David; Ives, Jeffrey L. (1980). "The Reductive Decyanation of Nitriles by Alkali Fusion". Synthetic Communications. 10 (12): 939–945. doi:10.1080/00397918008061855.
  15. Bub, Oskar; Friedrich, Ludwig (2000). "Cough Remedies". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. doi:10.1002/14356007.a08_013.
  16. Hropot, Max; Lang, Hans-Jochen (2000). "Diuretics". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. doi:10.1002/14356007.a09_029.
  17. Furniss, Brian; Hannaford, Antony; Smith, Peter & Tatchell, Austin (1996). Vogel's Textbook of Practical Organic Chemistry 5th Ed. London: Longman Science & Technical. pp. 1174–1179. ISBN 9780582462366.
  18. Bungardt, Edwin; Mutschler, Ernst (2000). "Spasmolytics". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. doi:10.1002/14356007.a24_515.
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