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As defined in an earlier introductory section, isomers are different compounds that have the same molecular formula. When the group of atoms that make up the molecules of different isomers are bonded together in fundamentally different ways, we refer to such compounds as constitutional isomers. For example, in the case of the C4H8 hydrocarbons, most of the isomers are constitutional. Shorthand structures for four of these isomers are shown below with their IUPAC names.
Note that the twelve atoms that make up these isomers are connected or bonded in very different ways. As is true for all constitutional isomers, each different compound has a different IUPAC name. Furthermore, the molecular formula provides information about some of the structural features that must be present in the isomers. Since the formula C4H8 has two fewer hydrogens than the four-carbon alkane butane (C4H10), all the isomers having this composition must incorporate either a ring or a double bond. A fifth possible isomer of formula C4H8 is CH3CH=CHCH3. This would be named 2-butene according to the IUPAC rules; however, a close inspection of this molecule indicates it has two possible structures. These isomers may be isolated as distinct compounds, having characteristic and different properties. They are shown here with the designations cis and trans.
The bonding patterns of the atoms in these two isomers are essentially equivalent, the only difference being the relative orientation or configuration of the two methyl groups (and the two associated hydrogen atoms) about the double bond. In the cis isomer the methyl groups are on the same side; whereas they are on opposite sides in the trans isomer. Isomers that differ only in the spatial orientation of their component atoms are called stereoisomers. Stereoisomers always require that an additional nomenclature prefix be added to the IUPAC name in order to indicate their spatial orientation, for example, cis (Latin, meaning on this side) and trans (Latin, meaning across) in the 2-butene case.