This paper will familiarize the reader with the terms used to describe the behavior of ion-selective electrodes, particularly in relation to their use in clinical chemistry for determination of blood electrolyte cations. It serves as an introduction to a series of papers dealing with important cations in blood, namely calcium, sodium, and potassium. The detailed relationships between the ion activity determined by means of ion-selective electrode potentiometry in undiluted specimens, and the total substance concentration measured by flame atomic-emission spectrometry are described by flow chart and equations. Adoption of a convention for reporting results is recommended. The Working Group on Selective Electrodes has taken into account recent revisions of IUPAC recommendations on nomenclature and selectivity coefficient determinations for ion-selective electrodes, and benefited from the experience of a member of the WG, who was also involved in the IUPAC discussions. Nomenclature for determined quantities follows previous IUPAC/IFCC joint recommendations.