Abstract Calderas are important features in all volcanic environments and are commonly the sites of geothermal activity and mineralisation. Yet, it is only in the last 25 years that a thorough three-dimensional study of calderas has been carried out, utilising studies of eroded calderas, geophysical analysis of their structures and analogue modelling of caldera formation. As more data has become available on calderas, their individuality has become apparent. A distinction between ‘caldera’, ‘caldera complex’, ‘cauldron’, and ‘ring structure’ is necessary, and new definitions are given in this paper. Descriptions of calderas, based on dominant composition of eruptives (basaltic, peralkaline, andesitic–dacitic, rhyolitic) can be used, and characteristics of each broad group are given. Styles of eruption may be effusive or explosive, with the former dominant in basaltic calderas, and the latter dominant in andesitic–dacitic, rhyolitic and peralkaline calderas. Four ‘end-member’ collapse styles occur—plate or piston, piecemeal, trapdoor, and downsag—but many calderas have multiple styles. Features of so-called ‘funnel’ and ‘chaotic’ calderas proposed in the literature can be explained by other collapse styles and the terms are considered unnecessary. Ground deformation comprises subsidence or collapse (essential characteristics of a caldera) and uplifting/doming and fracturing due to tumescence and/or resurgence (frequent, but not essential). Collapse may occur on pre-existing structures, such as regional faults or on faults created during the caldera formation, and the shape of the collapse area will be influenced by depth, size and shape of the magma chamber. The final morphology of a caldera will depend on how the caldera floor breaks up; whether collapse takes place in one event or multiple events, whether vertical movement is spasmodic or continuous throughout the eruptive sequence, and whether blocks subside uniformly or chaotically at one or more collapse centres. A meaningful description of any caldera should therefore include; number of collapse events, presence or absence of resurgence, caldera-floor coherency, caldera-floor collapse geometry, and dominant composition of eruptives.