The presence of one or a group of heteroatoms on a molecule can have a huge effect on the properties of that substance. Much of the influence relates to the polarity of bonds between these heteroatoms and carbon. Organic structures often include elements from the upper right-hand corner of the periodic table in them. Oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements in that part of the table tend to have high electronegativity, producing polar bonds to carbon or hydrogen. When such groups are added to nonpolar hydrocarbon structures they usually impart some degree of polarity to the entire molecule, resulting in a molecular dipole moment. As you have already learned this produces intermolecular interactions in bulk samples of these substances, including dipole-dipole interactions as well as, in some cases, hydrogen bonding interactions.
These intermolecular interactions influence the melting point and boiling point temperatures of compounds, and also influence their solubility in water and other solvents. Compared to alkanes of similar size and structure, amines and alcohols especially (but to some extent, also thiols and ethers) have higher melting and boiling points. So under specific conditions (e.g. normal room temperature and pressure) they will more likely be liquids or solids. They also will tend to have lower vapor pressures, which describes how much of the substance escapes into the air at a given temperature, which correlates in some situations to their odor. Their solubility in polar solvents including water and small liquid alcohols (such as methanol, ethanol or 2-propanol) will be greater. Their solubility in nonpolar solvents, such as toluene, will be less than their nonpolar relatives.
Alcohols and amines (other than tertiary amines) both have the ability to engage in hydrogen bonding interactions. As described earlier, the structural requirements for this phenomenon to exist include:
- hydrogen attached to F, O, N, or Cl on a molecule (a highly polarized bond to the hydrogen)
- an electronegative atom with lone pair electrons: F, O, N, or another Group 17 element
The -OH and -NH groups on molecules in these families make hydrogen bonding possible, as both hydrogen-bond donor and hydrogen-bond acceptor atoms are present as part of the functional group itself. Hydrogen bond interactions are notably stronger than other dipole-dipole interactions, so these functional groups have especially strong intermolecular attractive forces and the substances have properties to match.
In ethers polar bonds do exist, and dipole-dipole interactions are in play. However in the ether functional group there is no ability to hydrogen bond completely. The carbon to oxygen bond is polarized, and the oxygen atom on an ether does have lone pair electrons. But there is no hydrogen attached to that oxygen, nor to any other highly electronegative atom.
In thiols we have an architecture that looks like the alcohols, but with sulfur standing in for the oxygen atom of an alcohol. Sulfur is much less electronegative than oxygen and bonds between that atom and hydrogen are much less polar than the oxygen-hydrogen bond of an alcohol. The result is a weak dipole-dipole interaction that can occur in thiols rather than the more powerful hydrogen bond of an alcohol. The properties of thiols are influenced somewhat by the -SH group, but the effect is modest compared to the effect of the hydroxy group on an alcohol.
The effects of intermolecular forces are nuanced, involving both the degree of polarity in functional groups and also the length and shape of the parent hydrocarbon chain itself. But in general, the more functional groups of these types exist in a structure the stronger their influences will be.