Solvolysis is a nucleophilic substitution reaction in which a solvent act as a nucleophile. In this reaction, the solvent reacts with the substrate so that it splits into two ions. The rate of solvolysis reactions can be determined through the Grunwald-Winstein equation. However, some solvents act as the eliminating agent in the presence of high temperatures and a strong base. These reactions are named after the name of solvents such as hydrolysis.

It is to be noted that solvolysis is a type of chemical reaction in which a solute (such as a salt or an organic compound) is broken down or decomposed by a solvent. This type of reaction is also known as a “solvolytic reaction.” Solvolysis can occur in both acidic and basic environments, and the specific reaction mechanism will depend on the nature of the solvent and solute.

Classification of solvolysis

These reactions are classified on the basis of the solvents that are being used. Some common types of solvolysis with examples are given below:


The breaking of molecules in the presence of water is known as hydrolysis. However, solvolysis is mainly related to organic chemistry, whereas hydrolysis occurs in inorganic chemistry. Where aqua complexes of metal ions react with water. In organic chemistry, hydrolysis reactions give two components from the initial substrate. Some common examples are the hydrolysis of an amide and esters.

Hydrolysis of amide

Amides are hydrolyzed on heating with aqueous acid and alkali. Hence, it will give carboxylic acid and ammonia.

Solvolysis example: hydrolysis of amines

Hydrolysis of ester

Esters are hydrolyzed in the presence of acid or alkali into the carboxylic acid and alcohol.

solvolysis example


Alcoholysis is a reaction in which alcohol acts as a reactant and solvent. Some important examples of this phenomenon are discussed below:


The alcoholysis in which one ester is transformed into another ester is known as transesterification.

Alcoholysis of alkyl halide

Alcoholysis of alkyl halide involves the reaction of an alkyl halide with alcohol to produce ether via the SN1 mechanism.


The solvolysis reaction in which ammonia act as a nucleophile is known as ammonolysis. When we heat haloalkane with ammonia with ethanol a series of amines are formed.

Solvolysis in the SN1 reaction

The solvents play an important role in the SN1 reaction. In this reaction, the solvent act as a nucleophile as well as a solvent. However, the solvents stabilize the positively charged species in the reaction. Therefore, the greater the polarity of the solvent, the greater would be its ability to stabilize a positively charged species. For example, the rate of hydrolysis of tert-butyl bromide is increased by 100 times, when we change the solvent from alcohol to water. This is because water is more polar than alcohol.

Solvolysis example

Factor affecting rate of solvolysis reactions

The rate of a solvolysis reaction depends on the following factors, such as nature of the solvent, the concentration of the solute, the nature of the solute, and the presence of any catalysts or inhibitors. These factors are discussed in detail below:


In general, solvolysis reactions proceed faster in polar solvents than in nonpolar solvents. This is because polar solvents can form hydrogen bonds with the solute, which can stabilize the transition state of the reaction and lower the activation energy.

The rates of these reactions generally depend on the ionizing power of the solvents. The relation between the reaction rate and the ionizing power of the solvents describe by the Grunwald-Winstein equation. This equation is given below:

log(ks/kο) = mY


  • ks and kο and are the rates of solvolysis reaction

Concentration of solute

The concentration of the solute also affects the rate of solvolysis. In general, as the concentration of the solute increases, the rate of the reaction also increases. This is because there are more solute molecules present to react with the solvent.

Nature of solute

The nature of the solute also plays a role in determining the rate of solvolysis. Solute molecules with higher reactivity will generally have faster reaction rates than those with lower reactivity.


Catalysts can increase the rate of solvolysis reactions by lowering the activation energy, while inhibitors can slow down the rate of solvolysis reactions by raising the activation energy.

Solvation vs solvolysis

Sovolysis is often confused with solvation yet they are quite different processes in chemistry. The main difference between solvolysis and solvation is that solvolysis involves the autoionization of the solvent. On the other hand, the reaction in which solvent molecules are attached to the reacting substance without any change is known as solvation.

Related Resources

Concepts Berg

What does solvolysis mean in organic chemistry?

In organic chemistry, solvolysis is a reaction in which one solvent such as water or alcohol is present in great excess. Therefore, it acts as a reactant as well.

Does solvolysis mean SN1?

It is a type of nucleophilic substitution and elimination reaction. However, which can be SN1 and SN2.

How does the presence of resonance speed up solvolysis?

Solvolysis involves the formation of a carbocation. The more stable carbocation is, the easier the leaving group leave. Therefore, resonance facilitates the formation of carbocation and speeds up the reaction.


  • Organic chemistry by Craig B. Fryhle and T.W Graham Solomons and Scot A. Snyder