Abstract Previous supraspecific classifications of the genus Kobresia are evaluated. The evolution of the genus is discussed, and a preliminary revised supraspecific classification based on putative evolution is proposed. Previous classifications were mostly based on inflorescence characters. The spicate inflorescence might have evolved in parallel from a paniculate one, and unisexual spikelet might also be the result of parallel evolution from bisexual spikelets. Therefore, the subgenera or sections Elyna and Hemicarex, which were recognized by previous authors and characterized by the spicate inflorescence (the former with bisexual spikelets and the latter with unisexual ones), may be polyphyletic. In the classification presented here, three subgenera are recognized. A new subgenus Blysmocarex (N. A. Ivanova) S. R. Zhang is proposed. A key to subgenera and sections is included, and types, synonymies and representative species are given under each supraspecific rank.