What’s the difference between General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry?

Posted on July 18th, 2012

We get asked this question often. Students who would like to enter health fields will invariably take both of these courses. While General Chemistry is taught in high school, time dedicated to the “organic chemistry” field is usually brief and often not mentioned at all. So why is it that you spend two entire semesters studying both!?

Big Picture:

General Chemistry: the study inorganic compounds (in general those without carbon)

Organic Chemistry: the study of organic compounds (in general those with carbon)

In general, many university level general chemistry courses will cover the following topics over the span of two semesters:

  • atomic structure
  • the periodic table of elements
  • bonding
  • study of compounds, moles and molar mass
  • stoichiometry
  • kinetics, thermodynamics and equilibrium
  • ideal gas law
  • chemical phases: solid, liquid, gas
  • molarity and molality
  • redox reactions
  • acid – base chemistry
  • nuclear chemistry

By studying these areas within general chemistry you learn to understand and appreciate  ionic compounds, salts and minerals. You also can gain an appreciation for some of the theory and applications in industry and technology.


So what about organic chemistry? Why spend an entire year learning about carbon?!?

Carbon containing compounds are the gateway to life.

In general, many university level organic chemistry courses will cover the following topics over the span of two semesters:

  • atomic structure, nomenclature and resonance
  • structural formulas, hybridization and molecular shapes
  • stereochemistry
  • structure and conformation of alkanes
  • alkyl halides
  • nucleophilic substitution
  • elimination
  • alkanes
  • alkenes
  • alkynes
  • alcohols
  • gringard reagents
  • ethers
  • epoxides
  • conjugated systems
  • aromatic compounds
  • aldehydes, ketones and amines
  • carboxylic acids and their derivatives
  • amino acids, proteins and carbohydrates
  • laboratory methods such as spectroscopy

By studying these areas within organic chemistry one can have an appreciation for living organisms and the basis for life. One can also gain an understanding for organic chemistry contributions to health, medicine and pharmacology.