Abstract Over the last decade a number of factors have contributed to the rapid development of a new class of material - fibre reinforced ceramics. Important factors include: a demand from materials users for ceramics with improved engineering properties; the availability of new fibrous materials for reinforcement; the development of fabrication techniques for composite production; and an improved understanding of the fundamental factors controlling the mechanical properties of the composites. Materials discussed range from those already in use such as asbestos or glass reinforced cement, to research materials for intermediate and high temperature use such as carbon fibre reinforced glasses and silicon carbide reinforced silicon nitride. Fabrication methods, and actual or potential applications are outlined. The properties of ceramic based composites differ from those of metal or plastic composites in that the matrix fails by fine scale cracking before the reinforcing fibres break. Nevertheless, useful increases in both strength and stiffness can be obtained in particular systems. More spectacular increases, of several orders of magnitude, in fracture energy are obtained by reinforcement. In this way the significance of the brittleness of ceramics is diminished which makes the greater engineering use of ceramic composites more likely.