Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) diagnostic ratios have recently come into common use as a tool for identifying and assessing pollution emission sources. Some diagnostic ratios are based on parent PAHs, others on the proportions of alkyl-substituted to non-substituted molecules. The ratios are applicable to PAHs determined in different environmental media: air (gas + particle phase), water, sediment, soil, as well as biomonitor organisms such as leaves or coniferous needles, and mussels. These ratios distinguish PAH pollution originating from petroleum products, petroleum combustion and biomass or coal burning. The compounds involved in each ratio have the same molar mass, so it is assumed they have similar physicochemical properties. Numerous studies show that diagnostic ratios change in value to different extents during phase transfers and environmental degradation. The paper reviews applications of diagnostic ratios, comments on their use and specifies their limitations. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.