International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry

History of IUPAC Polymer Terminology and Nomenclature

IUPAC Polymer Division (IV):

From the 1920s, as polymer science developed and came of age, so too a common language came into being through the efforts of individuals who recognized the need for such a language. They formed committees to consider issues that included not only systematic nomenclature, but terminology and definitions, symbols, and other matters that might affect communication. All of this effort forms a part of the prehistory of the work of Division IV on polymer terminology and nomenclature.


The first publication of the IUPAC in the area of macromolecular nomenclature was in 1952 by the Sub-commission on Nomenclature of the then IUPAC Commission on Macromolecules, which drew on the talents of such remarkable individuals as J. J. Hermans, M. L. Huggins, O. Kratky, and H. F. Mark. That report [1] was a landmark in that, for the first time, it systematized the naming of macromolecules and certain symbols and terms commonly used in polymer science. It introduced the use of parentheses in source-based polymer names when the monomer from which the polymer is derived consists of more than one word, a practice that is now widely followed, and it recommended an entirely new way of naming polymers based on their structure that included the suffix "amer", a recommendation that has been almost totally ignored. After ten years, the Sub-commission issued its second report [2], which dealt with the then-burgeoning field of stereoregular polymers. A revision [3] of definitions in the original report appeared four years later. In 1968, a summary report [4] of the activities of the Sub-commission was published.


In 1968, the Commission on Macromolecular Nomenclature of the Macromolecular Division (Division IV)? was established under the Chairmanship of Kurt L. Loening with first Lionel C. Cross and later Robert B. Fox as Secretary. A series of major documents was produced that shaped modern polymer language. Most noteworthy was one that defined basic terms [5,6] and another on structure-based nomenclature for regular single-strand polymers [7,8]. The latter, originally developed by the Nomenclature Committee of the Polymer Division of the American Chemical Society and refined by the Commission, revolutionized polymer nomenclature by providing a systematic, consistent scheme particularly well-adapted to indexing; it became the standard for Chemical Abstracts and major polymer journals throughout the world. A list of standard abbreviations was published [9-11] and later revised [12].

As the 1970s came to a close, Aubrey Jenkins assumed the Chairmanship, with Robert B. Fox continuing as Secretary through 1979, to be succeeded by Norbert Bikales, who served as Secretary until 1987. There followed in the 1980s a complete revision of the stereochemical definitions [13,14], terminology for molar masses in polymer science [15], an extension of structure-based nomenclature to inorganic and coordination polymers [16,17], the systemization of source-based nomenclature for copolymers [18] and key documents dealing with physicochemical terminology in the polymer field, covering definitions for individual macromolecules, their assemblies, and dilute solutions [19], crystalline polymers [20], a new method of classifying polymers [21] and a basic classification and definitions of polymerization reactions [22]. These documents were completed under the Chairmanship of Pavel KratochvÍl, who assumed this post in 1985; William J. Work was elected Secretary in 1987. In 1991, the first edition of the Purple Book (the Compendium of Macromolecular Nomenclature) [23] was published. The Compendium was the first major compilation of the Commission and consisted of an introduction to macromolecular nomenclature and nine chapters corresponding to the then valid IUPAC recommendations.

The final decade of the 20th century saw the activity of the Commission unabated. Robert Stepto succeeded to the Chairmanship in 1991, Máximo BarÓn became Secretary in 1998 and Michael Hess became Chairman in 2000. In the course of this decade, the graphical representation of polymer structures was addressed for the first time in 1994 [24], a revised and enlarged glossary of basic terms was published in 1996 [25], along with definitive documents dealing with the terminology of polymer aging and degradation (1998) [26] and non-ultimate mechanical properties (1998) [27]. Terminology concerned with liquid-crystal polymers was also published (2001) [28,29]. In the field of structure-based nomenclature, the Commission published recommendations covering regular double-strand polymers (1993) [30] and irregular single-strand polymers (1994) [31], and a revision of the Commission’s 1975 rules for structure-based nomenclature [8] was completed (2002) [32]. In 1997, a document concerned with a new area, source-based nomenclature for non-linear macromolecules and macromolecular assemblies [33], was published. Documents on definitions relating to stereochemically asymmetric polymerizations [34] and the source-based generic nomenclature for polymers [35] were prepared in 2001.


With effect from 1st January, 2002, the Bureau and Council of the IUPAC decided to form a new Division of Chemical Nomenclature and Structure Representation (Division VIII) to deal with nomenclature in an integrated manner across all branches of chemistry. In keeping with this change and the change of the IUPAC to project-based funding, the Commission on Macromolecular Nomenclature decided to become the Sub-committee on Macromolecular Terminology of Division IV. Michael Hess and Máximo Barón remained as Chairman and Secretary, respectively. The development was timely as it reflected the change in the emphasis of the work the Commission was carrying out. Under the chairmanship of Robert Stepto and Michael Hess, the majority of projects had been concerned with terminology, related particularly to polymer and polymer-based materials. The trend continued, with recommendations on the terminology of polymer reactions and functional polymeric materials [36], and of polymer blends and composites [37] being published in 2004.

Richard Jones became Secretary in 2004. In the same year, the Macromolecular Division changed its name to Polymer Division and, in 2005, the sub-committee changed its name to the Sub-committee on Polymer Terminology. Richard Jones became Chairman in 2006 and Michael Hess became Secretary. Since then Tatsuki Kitayama served as secretary from during 2008-09 when Roger Hiorns took over.

In keeping with the Subcommittee's mission, projects are planned that keep pace with the ever increasing variety of new polymer processes and polymeric materials and new classes of polymers. In 2006, recommendations on the terminology of polymers containing ionizable or ionic groups and of polymers containing ions [38] and, in 2007, jointly with the Inorganic Chemistry Division of the IUPAC, recommendations on definitions of terms relating to the structure and processing of sols, gels, networks and inorganic-organic hybrid materials [39] were published. More recently recommendations on kinetics and thermodynamics of polymerization, reversible deactivation radical polymerization previously called "controlled" or "living" radical polymerization, and terms relating to polymers in dispersed systems have been published. Projects concerning biopolymers and biomedical polymers, and the thermal properties of polymers are in their final stages. In the field of nomenclature, definitions of polymer class names have been published and working parties are preparing or completing recommendations concerned with the nomenclature of cyclic, hyperbranched, dendritic and rotaxane macromolecules, and inorganic and coordination polymers. Finally, both a general guide and a complementary brief guide to polymer nomenclature are being prepared for publication on the IUPAC web site, the latter being devised to serve as a point of entry to those unfamiliar with the subject.


Although the nomenclature and terminology recommendations have all been published in English, those involved have purposefully pursued their further dissemination and discussion in other languages, including Chinese, Croatian, Czech, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Over the years, there has been no doubt about the global influence of the recommendations on the language of chemistry. A list of translations can be obtained from: http://www.chem.qmul.ac.uk/iupac/bibliog/macro.html.

November 2011


  • Paolo Corradini (Italy)
  • Victor Desreux (Belgium)
  • Jan J. Hermans (The Netherlands/USA)
  • Maurice L. Huggins (USA)
  • Otto Kratky (Austria)
  • Herman F. Mark (USA)
  • Giulio Natta (Italy)


Members of the Commission were either Titular Members (TM), Associate Members (AM), or National Representatives (NR). Until and including 1989, commission memberships commenced and terminated (in odd-numbered years) immediately following a biennial IUPAC General Assembly; from 1991 they commenced (in even-numbered years) on 1st January immediately following a General Assembly and terminated at the end of the (odd-numbered) year of a General Assembly. CC denotes Commission Chairman and CS Commission Secretary.

  • Tae-Oan Ahn (South Korea) NR (1989-1991)
  • José V. Alemán (Spain) AM (1987-1995)
  • Giuseppe Allegra (Italy) TM (1977-1989)
  • Devrim Balkëse (Turkey) NR (1987-1991)
  • Rolf E. Bareiss (FRG; Germany)a TM (1983-1993)
  • Máximo BarÓn (Argentina) NR (1987-1991); AM (1992-1995); TM (1996-2001, CS 1998-2001)
  • Norbert Bikales (USA) AM (1975-1977); TM (1977-1987, CS 1979-1987)
  • Dietrich Braun (FRG)a AM (1981-1989)
  • Anthony B. Brennan (USA) TM (1994-1997)
  • Paolo Corradini (Italy) TM (1968-1977)
  • John ("Ian") M. G. Cowie (UK) AM (1983-1987)
  • Lionel C. Cross (UK) TM (1968-1975, CS 1968-1973); AM (1975-1979)
  • Dinkar D. Deshpande (India) NR (1985-1987)
  • L. Guy Donaruma (USA) AM (1977-1985)
  • Robert B. Fox (USA) TM (1968-1979, CS 1973-1979); AM (1979-1983)
  • Koichi Hatada (Japan) AM (1987-1989); TM (1989-1997)
  • Jisaong He (China) AM (2000-2001)
  • Kazuyuki Horie (Japan) AM (1996-1997); TM (1998-2001)
  • Yadong Hu (China) NR (1981-1983)
  • Marly A. M. Jacobi (Brazil) NR (1994-1995)

  • Aubrey Jenkins (UK) TM (1975-1985, CC 1977-1985); AM (1985-1987)
  • Jung-Il Jin (South Korea) NR (1992-1993); AM (1994-2001)
  • Richard Jones (UK) TM (1998-2001)
  • Jaroslav Kahovec (Czechoslovakia; Czech Republic)b AM (1987-1991); TM (1992-1999)
  • Kaushal Kishore (India) NR (1989-1991, 1998-2001)
  • Tatsuki Kitayama (Japan) TM (2000-2001)
  • Vasilii V. Korshak (USSR)c TM (1968-1971)
  • Ole Kramer (Denmark) AM (1996-2001)
  • Pavel KratochvÍl (Czechoslovakia; Czech Republic)b AM (1977-1979); TM (1979-1991, CC 1985-1991)
  • Przemyslaw Kubisa (Poland) AM (1996-1999); TM (2000-2001)
  • Gordon J. Leary (New Zealand) NR (1981-1987)
  • Kurt L. Loening (USA) TM (1968-1977, CC 1968-1977); AM (1977-1985); NR (1985-1987)
  • Edgar M. Macchi (Argentina) NR (1983-1987)
  • Eloisa B. Mano (Brazil) NR (1979-1985)
  • Robert H. Marchessault (Canada) AM (1977-1981, 1983-1987)
  • Ernest Maréchal (France) AM (1992-1993); TM (1994-2001)
  • Krzysztof Matyjaszewski (USA) AM (1992-1995)
  • Ingrid Meisel (Germany) AM (1998-1999); TM (2000-2001)
  • W. Val Metanomski (USA) AM (1987-1991); TM (1992-1999)
  • Itaru Mita (Japan) AM (1977-1979); TM (1979-1989); AM (1989-1991)
  • Graeme Moad (Australia) NR (2000-2001)
  • Werner Mormann (Germany) NR (1998-2001)
  • N. Nhlapo (Republic of South Africa) NR (1996-2001)
  • Claudine Noël (France) TM (1985-1993)
  • Ivan M. Papisov (USSR; Russia)c TM (1979-1987); AM (1987-1991)
  • Stanislaw Penczek (Poland) AM (1979-1983, 1994-2001)
  • Nikolai A. Platé (USSR; Russia)c TM (1971-1979); AM (1979-1983); NR (1983-1991)
  • Roderic P. Quirk (USA) AM (1983-1987)
  • Marguerite Rinaudo (France) AM (1981-1985)
  • Wolfhardt Ring (FRG)a TM (1971-1981)
  • Takeo Saegusa (Japan) AM (1989-1993)
  • Raquel Santos Mauler (Brazil) NR (1996-1999)
  • Lianghe Shi (China) NR (1983-1987); AM (1987-1995)
  • Valerii P. Shibaev (USSR; Russia)c TM (1987-1995); AM (1996-1999)
  • Pierre Sigwalt (France) TM (1975-1983); AM (1983-1987)
  • Augusto Sirigu (Italy) NR (1992-2001)
  • Stanislaw Slomkowski (Poland) AM (2000-2001)
  • George J. Smets (Belgium) TM (1968-1975)
  • Robert Stepto (UK) AM (1987-1989); TM (1989-1999, CC 1992-1999)
  • Claus Suhr (FRG)a TM (1968-1971)
  • Lars-Oluf Sundelëf (Sweden) AM (1981-1985)
  • Ulrich W. Suter (Switzerland) AM (1979-1981); TM (1981-1991); AM (1992-1993)
  • Graham Swift (USA) AM (2000-2001)
  • David Tabak (Brazil) NR (2000-2001)
  • A. S. Tan (Malaysia) NR (1983-1987)
  • Sukant K. Tripathy (USA) AM (1987-1991)
  • Teiji Tsuruta (Japan) TM (1968-1979); AM (1979-1983)
  • Ferenc Tüdos (Hungary) NR (1985-1987)
  • Marcel van Beylen (Belgium) NR (1985-1987)
  • J. K. Varna (India) NR (1994-1997)
  • JirÍ VohlÍdal (Czech Republic) AM (2000-2001)
  • Raymond E. Wetton (UK) AM (1977-1981)
  • Edward ("Ted") S. Wilks (USA) AM (1998-1999); TM (2000-2001)
  • Hans Wilski (FRG)a AM (1975-1979)
  • William J. Work (USA) AM (1985-1987); TM (1987-1997, CS 1987-1997)

a Prior to 1990, Germany was divided into West Germany (FRG) and East Germany (GDR).
b Prior to 1993, Czechoslovakia included the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
c Prior to 1991, Russia was part of the USSR.




Giuseppe Allegra (Italy), Máximo BarÓn (Argentina, Secretary, 2002-2003), Taihyun Chang (Korea), Jiazhong Chen (USA), Alain Fradet (France), Jiasong He (China), Koichi Hatada (Japan), Karl-Heinz Hellwich (Germany), Michael Hess (Germany, Chairman, 2002-2005; Secretary, 2006-2007), Roger C. Hiorns (France, Secretary, from 2010), Philip Hodge (UK), Kazuyuki Horie (Japan), Aubrey Jenkins (UK), Jung-Il Jin (Korea), Richard G. Jones (UK, Secretary, 2004-2005; Chairman, from 2006), Jaroslav Kahovec (Czech Republic), Tatsuki Kitayama (Japan, Secretary 2008-2009), Pavel KratochvÍl (Czech Republic), Przemyslaw Kubisa (Poland), Ernest Maréchal (France), Ingrid Meisel (Germany), W. Val Metanomski (USA), Itaru Mita (Japan), Valdo Meille (Italy), Graeme Moad (Australia), Werner Mormann (Germany), Nabuo Nakabayashi (Japan), Tamaki Nakano (Japan), Christopher K. Ober (USA), Stanislaw Penczek (Poland), Luis P. Rebelo (Portugal), Marguerite Rinaudo (France), Claudio dos-Santos (Brazil), Ivan Schopov (Bulgaria), Francois Schué (France), Mark Schubert (USA), Valerii P. Shibaev (Russia), Stanislaw Slomkowski (Poland), Dennis Smith (USA), Robert F. T. Stepto (UK), David Tabak (Brazil), Jean-Pierre Vairon (France), Michel Vert (France), JirÍ VohlÍdal (Czech Republic), Edward S. Wilks (USA), and William J. Work (USA).


1968 Toronto, Canada
1969 Oberursel, Germany
1970 Ravello, Italy
1971 Washington, DC, USA
1972 Knokke Zoute, Belgium
1973 München (Munich), Germany
1974 Santiago de Compostela, Spain
1975 Madrid, Spain
1976 Dorking, UK
1977 Warszawa (Warsaw), Poland
1978 Moskva (Moscow), USSR
1979 Davos, Switzerland
1980 Arco Felice, Italy
1981 Leuven/Louvain, Belgium
1982 Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
1983 Lyngby, Denmark
1984 Praha (Prague), Czechoslovakia
1985 Lyon (Lyons), France
1986 Hëhr-Grenzhausen, Germany
1987 Boston, Massachusetts, USA
1988 Tokyo, Japan
1989 Lund, Sweden
1990 Montréal/Montreal, Canada
1991 Hamburg, Germany
1992 Zürich, Switzerland
1993 Lisboa (Lisbon), Portugal
1994 Columbus, Ohio, USA
1995 Guildford, UK
1996 Seoul, South Korea
1997 Genève (Geneva), Switzerland
1998 Sydney, Australia
1999 Berlin, Germany
2000 Warszawa (Warsaw), Poland
2001 Brisbane, Australia
2002 Beijing, China
2003 Ottawa, Canada
2004 Bordeaux, France
2005 Beijing, China
2006 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2007 Torino, Italy
2008 Taipei, Taiwan
2009 Glasgow, Scotland, UK
2010 Glasgow, Scotland, UK
2011 San Juan, Puerto Rico


1. Report on nomenclature in the field of macromolecules, J. Polym. Sci. 8, 257- 277 (1952). Obsolete.
2. Report on nomenclature dealing with steric regularity in high polymers, J. Polym. Sci. 56, 153-161 (1962). Superseded by Ref. 14.
3. Report on nomenclature dealing with steric regularity in high polymers, Pure Appl. Chem. 12, 645-656 (1966). Superseded by Ref. 14.
4. Report of the Committee on Nomenclature of the International Commission on Macromolecules, J. Polym. Sci., Part B: Polym. Lett. 6, 257-260 (1968). Obsolete.
5. Basic definitions of terms relating to polymers, IUPAC Inf. Bull. Append. No. 13 (1971). Superseded by Ref. 25.
6. Basic definitions of terms relating to polymers 1974. Pure Appl. Chem. 40, 477-491 (1974). Superseded by Ref. 25.
7. Nomenclature of regular single-strand organic polymers, IUPAC Inf. Bull. Append. No. 29, (1972); Macromolecules 6, 149-158 (1973); J. Polym. Sci., Polym. Lett. Ed. 11, 389-414 (1973). Superseded by Ref. 32.
8. Nomenclature of regular single-strand organic polymers (Rules Approved 1975), Pure Appl. Chem. 48, 373-385 (1976). Superseded by Ref. 32.
9. Recommendations for abbreviations of terms relating to plastics and elastomers, Pure Appl. Chem. 18, 581-589 (1969). Obsolete.
10. List of abbreviations for synthetic polymers and polymer materials, Inf. Bull. Append. No. 12, (1971). Superseded by Ref. 12.
11. List of standard abbreviations (symbols) for synthetic polymers and polymer materials 1974, Pure Appl. Chem. 40, 473-476 (1974). Superseded by Ref. 12.
12. Use of abbreviations for names of polymeric substances (IUPAC Recommendations 1986), Pure Appl. Chem. 59, 691-693 (1987).
13. Stereochemical definitions and notations relating to polymers (Provisional), Pure Appl. Chem. 51, 1101-1121 (1979). Superseded by Ref. 14.
14. Stereochemical definitions and notations relating to polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1980), Pure Appl. Chem. 53, 733-752 (1981).
15. Note on the terminology of the molar masses in polymer science, Macromol. Chem. 185, Appendix to No. 1 (1984); J. Polym. Sci., Polym. Lett. Ed. 22, 57 (1984); J. Colloid Interface Sci. 101, 277 (1984); J. Macromol. Sci., Chem. A21, 903-904 (1984); Br. Polym. J. 17, 92 (1985).
16. Nomenclature for regular single-strand and quasi-single-strand inorganic and coordination polymers (Provisional), Pure Appl. Chem. 53, 2283-2302 (1981). Superseded by Ref. 17.
17. Nomenclature for regular single-strand and quasi-single-strand inorganic and coordination polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1984), Pure Appl. Chem. 57, 149-168 (1985). Reprinted as Chapter II-7 in Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry II – Recommendations 2000, Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, 2001.
18. Source-based nomenclature for copolymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1985), Pure Appl. Chem. 57, 1427-1440 (1985).
19. Definitions of terms relating to individual macromolecules, their assemblies, and dilute polymer solutions (IUPAC Recommendations 1988), Pure Appl. Chem. 61, 211-241 (1989).
20. Definitions of terms relating to crystalline polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1988), Pure Appl. Chem. 61, 769-785 (1989).
21. A classification of linear single-strand polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1988), Pure Appl. Chem. 61, 243-254 (1989).
22. Basic classification and definitions of polymerization reactions (IUPAC Recommendations 1994), Pure Appl. Chem. 66, 2483-2486 (1994).
23. Compendium of Macromolecular Nomenclature (the “Purple Book”), prepared for publication by W. V. Metanomski, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford (1991).
24. Graphic representations (chemical formulae) of macromolecules (IUPAC Recommendations 1994), Pure Appl. Chem. 66, 2469-2482 (1994).
25. Glossary of basic terms in polymer science (IUPAC Recommendations 1996), Pure Appl. Chem. 68, 2287-2311 (1996).
26. Definition of terms relating to degradation, aging, and related chemical transformations of polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1996)”, Pure Appl. Chem. 68, 2313-2323 (1996).
27. Definitions of terms relating to the non-ultimate mechanical properties of polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1998), Pure Appl. Chem. 70, 701-754 (1998).
28. Definitions of basic terms relating to low-molar-mass and polymer liquid crystals (IUPAC Recommendations 2001), Pure Appl. Chem. 73, 845-895 (2001).
29. Definitions of basic terms relating to polymer liquid crystals (IUPAC Recommendations 2001), Pure Appl. Chem. 74, 493-509 (2002).
30. Nomenclature of regular double-strand (ladder and spiro) organic polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1993), Pure Appl. Chem. 65, 1561-1580 (1993).
31. Structure-based nomenclature for irregular single-strand organic polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 1994), Pure Appl. Chem. 66, 873-889 (1994).
32. Nomenclature of regular single-strand organic polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 2002), Pure Appl. Chem. 74, 1921-1956 (2002).
33. Source-based nomenclature for non-linear macromolecules and macromolecular assemblies (IUPAC Recommendations 1997), Pure Appl. Chem. 69, 2511-2521 (1997).
34. Definitions relating to stereochemically asymmetric polymerizations (IUPAC Recommendations 2001), Pure Appl. Chem. 74, 915-922 (2002).
35. Generic source-based nomenclature for polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 2001), Pure Appl. Chem. 73, 1511-1519 (2001). Errata, Pure Appl. Chem. 74, 2019 (2002).
36. Definitions of terms relating to reactions of polymers and to functional polymeric materials (IUPAC Recommendations 2003), Pure Appl. Chem. 76, 889-906 (2004).
37. Definitions of terms related to polymer blends, composites, and multiphase polymeric materials (IUPAC Recommendations 2004), Pure Appl. Chem. 76, 1985-2007 (2004).
38. Terminology of polymers containing ionizable or ionic groups and of polymers containing ions (IUPAC Recommendations 2006), Pure Appl. Chem. 78, 2067-2074 (2006).
39. Definitions of terms relating to the structure and processing of sols, gels, networks and inorganic-organic hybrid materials (IUPAC Recommendations 2007), Pure Appl. Chem. 79, 1801-1829 (2007).
40. Structure-based nomenclature for cyclic organic macromolecules (IUPAC Recommendations 2008), Pure Appl. Chem., 80, 201–232, (2008)
41. Terminology for the kinetics, thermodynamics, and mechanism of polymerization, Pure Appl. Chem., 80, 2163-2193, (2008)
42. Dispersity (IUPAC Recommendations 2009), Pure Appl. Chem., 81, 351-35, (2009)
43. Glossary of class names of polymers based on chemical structure and molecular architecture (IUPAC Recommendations 2009), Pure Appl. Chem., 81, 1131-1186, (2009)
44. Compendium of polymer terminology and nomenclature (The Purple Book): (IUPAC Recommendations 2008) published by RSC, 2009 [ISBN 978-0-85404-491-7]
45. Terminology for reversible-deactivation radical polymerization previously called "controlled" radical or "living" radical polymerization (IUPAC Recommendations 2010), Pure Appl. Chem. 82, 483-491, (2010).