In chemistry, esters are organic compounds in which an organic group (symbolized by R' in this article) replaces a hydrogen atom (or more than one) in an oxygen acid. An oxygen acid is an acid whose molecule has an -OH group from which the hydrogen (H) can dissociate as an H+ ion.
The most common esters are the carboxylate esters, where the acid in question is a carboxylic acid. For example, if the acid is acetic acid, the ester is called an acetate. Esters may also be formed with inorganic acids; for example, dimethyl sulfate is an ester, and sometimes called "sulfuric acid, dimethyl ester".
Esters are named similarly to salts; although they don't really have cations and anions, the terminology follows the same pattern: a more electropositive part followed by a more electronegative part.
An ester can be thought of as a product of a condensation reaction of an acid (usually an organic acid) and an alcohol (or phenol compound), although there are other ways to form esters. Condensation is a type of chemical reaction in which two molecules are joined together and eliminate a small molecule, in this case two-OH groups are joined eliminating a water molecule. A condensation reaction to form an ester is called esterification. Esterification can be catalysed by the presence of H+ ions. Sulfuric acid is often used as a catalyst for this reaction. The name ester is derived from the German Essig-Äther, an old name for acetic acid ethyl ester (ethyl acetate).