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Any organic compound with the general chemical formula COOH in which a carbon (C) atom is bonded to an oxygen (O) atom by a double bond to make a carbonyl group (CO; seefunctional group) and to a hydroxyl group (OH) by a single bond (seebonding). The fourth bond on the carbon links it to a hydrogen (H) atom (for formic acid), a methyl (CH) group (for acetic acid), or another natural or synthetic monovalent group. Carboxylic acids occur widely in nature. In fatty acids, the fourth group is a hydrocarbon chain. In aromatic acids (seearomatic compound), it is a ring-structured hydrocarbon. In amino acids, it contains a nitrogen atom. Carboxylic acids participate in chemical reactions as acids, usually fairly weak. Many carboxylic acids (acetic acid, citric acid, lactic acid) are intermediates in metabolism and can be found in natural products; others (e.g., salicylic acid) are used as solvents and to prepare many chemical compounds. Important carboxylic-acid derivatives include esters, anhydrides, amides, halides (seehalogen), and salts (seesoap).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on carboxylic acid, visit Britannica.com.