The diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), an illness characterized by medically unexplained fatigue, depends on a clinical case definition representing one or more pathophysiological mechanisms. To prepare for studies of these mechanisms, this study sought to identify subtypes of CFS. In 161 women meeting 1994 criteria for CFS, principal components analysis of the 10 'minor' symptoms of CFS produced three factors interpreted to indicate musculoskeletal, infectious and neurological subtypes. Extreme scores on one or more of these factors characterized about 2/3 of the sample. Those characterized by the neurological factor were at increased risk of reduced scores on cognitive tests requiring attention, working memory, long-term memory or rapid performance. In addition, the neurological subtype was associated with reduced levels of function. Those characterized by the musculoskeletal factor were at increased risk for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia (chronic widespread pain and mechanical allodynia) and reduced physical function. Those characterized by the infectious factor were less likely to evidence co-occurring fibromyalgia, and showed lesser risk of functional impairment. The prevalence of disability was increased in those with the highest scores on any of the subtypes, as well as in those with high scores on multiple factors. Depression and anxiety, while frequently present, were not more prevalent in any particular subtype, and did not increase with the severity of specific symptom reports. Results suggest that subtypes of CFS may be identified from reports of the minor diagnostic symptoms, and that these subtypes demonstrate construct validity.