This paper discusses the structure of fish assemblages using information from 17 European estuarine areas (in the British Isles, Portugal, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Spain). Binary (presence/absence) and quantitative data for each assemblage have been used to assess the assemblage structure according to taxonomy (i.e. species identity). Following this, a total of 29 functional guilds were created in order to describe the use made of an estuarine area for each taxon encountered: feeding preferences, reproduction type, substratum preferences (for bottom dwelling fish) and position within the water column (vertical preference guild). The paper focuses on the designation and determination of the proportions of the guild members of the fish assemblage within each estuary. Ecological guilds within the assemblage include estuarine residents, marine juvenile migrants, catadromous and anadromous migrants, marine seasonal users, and freshwater and marine adventitious species. Feeding guilds include detritivores, planktonic feeders, infaunal croppers and sediment ingesters, piscivores, and active predators of mobile crustaceans. Reproduction guilds include planktonic and demersal spawners and those using brood-protection. The substratum preference indicates the proportions of sand, mud, rock and vegetation dwellers, and the vertical preference denotes benthic, demersal or pelagic species. The analysis has allowed both the estuaries to be grouped according to taxonomic and guild similarity and the characterisation of a typical European estuarine fish assemblage. Within the limits posed by differing sampling methods, times of sampling and survey rationale, there is a high similarity between estuaries. The data indicate common patterns of estuarine usage irrespective of the differences between the estuaries although such patterns cannot be interpreted fully given the incomplete knowledge of their physical and anthropogenic characteristics.