Abstract Reactivities of seventeen 40 × 100 mesh (U.S.) coals charred to 1000 °C have been measured at 910 °C in 0.1 MPa of a N 2H 2O mixture containing water vapour at a partial pressure of 2.27 kPa. Char reactivity decreases, in general, with increasing rank of the parent coal. The chars show a 250-fold difference in their reactivities. Results suggest that gasification of chars in air, CO 2 and steam involves essentially the same mechanism and that relative gasification rates are controlled by the same intermediate oxygen-transfer step. Removal of inorganic matter from raw coals prior to their charring or from chars produced from raw coals decreases the reactivities of lower-rank chars, whereas reactivities of higher-rank chars increase. Addition of H 2 to steam has a marked retarding effect on char reactivity in most cases. However, in a few cases H 2 acts as an accelerator for gasification. The effect of particle size, reaction temperature and water-vapour pressure on char reactivity is considered.