Thiocyanate is analogous to the cyanate ion, [OCN]−, wherein oxygen is replaced by sulfur. [SCN]− is one of the pseudohalides, due to the similarity of its reactions to that of halide ions. Thiocyanate used to be known as rhodanide (from a Greek word for rose) because of the red colour of its complexes with iron. Thiocyanate is produced by the reaction of elemental sulfur or thiosulfate with cyanide:
8 CN− + S8 → 8 SCN−
CN− + S2O32− → SCN− + SO32−
The second reaction is catalyzed by the enzyme sulfotransferase known as rhodanase and may be relevant to detoxification of cyanide in the body.
Thiocyanate shares its negative charge approximately equally between sulfur and nitrogen. As a consequence, thiocyanate can act as a nucleophile at either sulfur or nitrogen — it is an ambidentate ligand. [SCN]− can also bridge two (M−SCN−M) or even three metals (>SCN− or −SCN<). Experimental evidence leads to the general conclusion that class A metals (hard acids) tend to form N-bonded thiocyanate complexes, whereas class B metals (soft acids) tend to form S-bonded thiocyanate complexes. Other factors, e.g. kinetics and solubility, are sometimes involved, and linkage isomerism can occur, for example [Co(NH3)5(NCS)]Cl2 and [Co(NH3)5(SCN)]Cl2.
Organic and transition metal derivatives of the thiocyanate ion can exist as "linkage isomers." In thiocyanates, the organic group (or metal ion) is attached to sulfur: R−S−C≡N has a S-C single bond and a C-N triple bond. In isothiocyanates, the substituent is attached to nitrogen: R−N=C=S has a S-C double bond and a C-N double bond:
Phenylthiocyanate and phenylisothiocyanate are linkage isomers and are bonded differently
^Childers, M.; Eckel, G.; Himmel, A.; Caldwell, J. (2007). "A new Model of Cystic Fibrosis Pathology: Lack of Transport of Glutathione and its Thiocyanate Conjugates". Medical Hypotheses68 (1): 101–112. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2006.06.020. PMID16934416.