Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome (GTS) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) share obsessive-compulsive phenomena. The aims of this study were to compare the OC symptom distribution between GTS and OCD and to investigate whether a subdivision of these phenomena into obsessions, compulsions and 'impulsions' is useful in distinguishing GTS and OCD patients. Thirty-two GTS, 31 OCD (10 with tics, 21 without tics) and 29 control subjects were studied using the Leiden repetitive behaviors semi-structured interview to assess GTS as well as OCD-related behaviors. Each reported repetitive thought or action was evaluated on the presence of anxiety and on goal-directedness. This information was used to define whether the behavior was an obsession, compulsion, or 'impulsion'. Both the GTS and OCD study groups showed higher scores than control subjects on rating scales measuring depression, OC behavior and anxiety. In GTS, Y-BOCS severity scores and trait anxiety were lower than in the OCD groups. Furthermore, GTS patients differed from OCD patients in the distribution of symptoms. Aggressive repetitive thoughts, contamination worries and washing behaviors were reported more frequently by tic-free OCD, while mental play, echophenomena, touching and (self)-injurious behaviors were reported more frequently by GTS. OCD individuals with tics were intermediate, but closer to tic-free OCD. GTS individuals reported significantly more 'impulsions' and fewer obsessions and compulsions than OCD individuals with and without tics. Factor analysis revealed three factors accounting for 44% of the variance, resulting in an 'impulsive' factor related to GTS, a 'compulsive' factor related to OCD and an 'obsessive' factor related to tic-free OCD. In conclusion, OCD individuals reported more anxiety and goal-directedness associated with their behaviors than did GTS subjects. The distinction between obsessions, compulsions and impulsions is of importance in identifying Tourette-related vs. non-Tourette-related repetitions.