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Oligomer vs. Monomer — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Maham Liaqat — Updated on March 7, 2024
Oligomers are short chains of molecules linked together, whereas monomers are single molecules that can bind to form polymers.
Oligomer vs. Monomer — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Oligomer and Monomer


Key Differences

Oligomers consist of a few monomer units (typically between 2 and 20) linked by covalent bonds, providing them a defined, often small molecular size. Monomers, on the other hand, are single molecules that can react with other monomer molecules to form polymers, serving as the building blocks for more complex structures.
Oligomers play crucial roles in various biological and synthetic processes due to their intermediate size and properties, which can be distinctly different from both monomers and long-chain polymers. Whereas monomers are versatile in their applications, ranging from the synthesis of plastics and resins to biological functions like the formation of DNA and proteins.
In terms of functionality, oligomers can have unique physical and chemical properties not found in either monomers or polymers, such as enhanced solubility or specific biological activity. Monomers, however, are fundamental for creating polymers through processes like polymerization, where their properties dictate the characteristics of the resultant polymer.
Oligomers are often used in research and industry to study the early stages of polymerization processes or to create materials with specific properties, like conducting polymers or biodegradable plastics. Monomers, in contrast, are widely used in the production of plastics, resins, and synthetic fibers, highlighting their importance in both everyday items and specialized applications.
The study of oligomers bridges the gap between monomeric chemistry and polymer science, offering insights into how small changes in monomer units can drastically affect the properties and functionality of the resulting material. On the other hand, understanding monomers is crucial for designing new polymers with desired characteristics, making monomer science a foundational aspect of material science and engineering.

Comparison Chart


Short chains of a few monomer units linked together.
Single molecules that can react to form polymers.

Number of Units

2 to 20 typically


Intermediate size and properties, used for specific applications.
Building blocks for polymers.


Unique properties distinct from monomers and polymers.
Dictates the properties of the resulting polymer.


Research, studying polymerization, creating materials with specific properties.
Production of plastics, resins, synthetic fibers.

Compare with Definitions


A molecule consisting of a few monomer units.
A peptide oligomer may contain 10 amino acids.


Found in synthetic and natural processes.
Monomers like amino acids are essential for protein synthesis.


Intermediate between monomers and polymers.
Oligomer chains are shorter than those in polymers but longer than monomers.


Essential for material science and engineering.
Monomer research leads to advancements in plastics and fibers.


Can have distinct biological activities.
Some oligomers are studied for their potential in drug delivery.


The building block of polymers.
Glucose monomers link to form starch.


Used in creating materials with specific properties.
Oligomers are pivotal in making certain biodegradable plastics.


A single molecule that can form polymers.
Ethylene is a monomer used to make polyethylene plastic.


Bridges the gap in polymer science.
Oligomers help understand the polymerization process at an early stage.


Undergoes polymerization to form polymers.
Styrene monomers polymerize to form polystyrene.


In chemistry and biochemistry, an oligomer ( (listen)) is a molecule that consists of a few similar or identical repeating units which could be derived, actually or conceptually, from copies of a smaller molecule, its monomer. The name is composed from Greek elements oligo-, "a few" and -mer, "parts".


A monomer ( MON-ə-mər; mono-, "one" + -mer, "part") is a molecule that can react together with other monomer molecules to form a larger polymer chain or three-dimensional network in a process called polymerization.


A polymer whose molecules consist of relatively few repeating units.


A molecule that can be bonded to other identical molecules to form a polymer.


A polymer consisting of at least 2 and as many as 100 monomers.


A molecule that can combine with other molecules to form a polymer.


(chemistry) A compound intermediate between a monomer and a polymer, normally having a specified number of units between about five and a hundred.


(chemistry) A relatively small molecule which can be covalently bonded to other monomers to form a polymer.


A molecule composed of a small number of linked monomer units; a short polymer; - compounds called oligomers have less than one hundred monomer units and usually less than thirty. Oligomers of increasing length are called dimer, trimer, tetramer, pentamer, hexamer, heptamer, octamer, nonamer, decamer, etc. In colloquial laboratory jargon, they may also be referred to as nine-mer, ten-mer, eleven-mer, twelve-mer, etc., especially for oligomers of greater than eight units.


The basic conceptual building unit of a polymer; a molecule of low molecular weight which may combine with other molecules to form a molecule in a chain or branched form having high molecular weight; as, amino acids are the monomer units which are combined to form proteins; vinylic plastics are formed from monomers having a vinyl group.


A simple compound whose molecules can join together to form polymers

Common Curiosities

How do oligomers differ from polymers?

Oligomers consist of fewer monomer units and have different properties compared to long-chain polymers.

Can oligomers form without monomers?

No, oligomers are formed by linking monomer units together.

What is an oligomer?

An oligomer is a molecule made up of a few monomer units linked together.

What is a monomer?

A monomer is a single molecule that can react with other monomer molecules to form polymers.

Do oligomers have specific uses in biology?

Yes, certain oligomers are studied for their unique biological activities, including potential therapeutic applications.

Are oligomers always synthetic?

No, oligomers can be both synthetic and naturally occurring.

What role do oligomers play in industry?

Oligomers are used in various applications, including the study of polymerization and the creation of materials with specific properties.

Are all monomers capable of forming polymers?

While most monomers can form polymers, not all monomers have the necessary reactive groups to do so.

What is polymerization?

Polymerization is the chemical process by which monomers react together to form polymers.

How do the properties of oligomers compare to those of monomers and polymers?

Oligomers have unique properties that are different from both monomers and polymers, often providing a balance between the two.

What determines the properties of a polymer?

The properties of a polymer are primarily determined by the type of monomers it is made from and the structure of the polymer chain.

How are monomers used in everyday life?

Monomers are used to produce a wide range of products, from plastics and resins to synthetic fibers.

What is the significance of studying monomers?

Studying monomers is crucial for designing new polymers with desired characteristics and applications.

Can the length of an oligomer chain vary?

Yes, oligomer chains can vary in length but typically consist of 2 to 20 monomer units.

Can oligomers be converted into polymers?

Yes, under certain conditions, oligomers can further react to form longer polymer chains.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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