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So let me get this straight:


Alkanols, when exposed to oxygen gas, gradually become carboxylic acid.
There is oxygen gas in the air, so this happens naturally.
And carboxylic acids automatically react with alkanols to form esters!


So is there is like a 'chain' of things that happen, with carboxylic acid only being like a temporary thing?

And when is the term 'ester' used? It seems to be redundant to saying the 'alkanol and carboxylic acid' and calling them as bonded together with an ester bond. It does react after all.

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1 Answer

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In theory, yes. You could have a bottle of ethanol that eventually forms into ethanoic acid and then condenses to form ethyl ethanoate.

In practice, however, an esterification requires more favourable conditions (certain catalysts and temperatures) for a significant or noticeable yield of the ester to be produced.

There are two reactions that are required here, and both these 'hurdles' must be jumped before significant amounts of the ester are created:


Oxygen in the air is a very weak oxidant, at least compared to something like KMnO4 or K2Cr2O7. This will really limit the amount of ethanoic acid that can be produced, and hence make the reaction between ethanol and ethanoic acid virtually impossible.
The esterification reaction needs to be promoted and encouraged through the appropriate conditions, with the right temperature and catalyst to allow for this reaction to occur.


So, my estimate is that this does not go on in your bottles of alcohol at home (which contains ethanol). A very good and inquisitive question though!

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