A geminal diether (R1 = H). Ketals, considered a subclass of acetals, are also geminal diethers (R1 = C, aliphatic or aromatic). Acetals are (1) independent structural units or a part of certain biological and commercial polymers, (2) blocking or protecting groups for complex molecules undergoing selective synthetic transformations, and (3) entry compounds for independent organic chemical reactions.
Acetals are easily prepared by the reaction of aldehydes with excess alcohol, under acid-catalyzed conditions. This is usually a two-step process in which an aldehyde is treated with an alcohol to yield a less stable hemiacetal, which then reacts with additional alcohol to give the acetal. Protonic or Lewis acids are effective catalysts for acetal formation; dehydrating agents, such as calcium chloride and molecular sieves, can also be used for molecules, such as sugars, where acids may cause problems. Less common acetal preparations are Grignard reagent condensation with orthoformates and mercuric-catalyzed additions of alcohols to acetylenes.