Short-chain dehydrogenases/reductases (SDRs) are enzymes of great functional diversity. Even at sequence identities of typically only 15-30%, specific sequence motifs are detectable, reflecting common folding patterns. We have developed a functional assignment scheme based on these motifs and we find five families. Two of these families were known previously and are called 'classical' and 'extended' families, but they are now distinguished at a further level based on coenzyme specificities. This analysis gives seven subfamilies of classical SDRs and three subfamilies of extended SDRs. We find that NADP(H) is the preferred coenzyme among most classical SDRs, while NAD(H) is that preferred among most extended SDRs. Three families are novel entities, denoted 'intermediate', 'divergent' and 'complex', encompassing short-chain alcohol dehydrogenases, enoyl reductases and multifunctional enzymes, respectively. The assignment scheme was applied to the genomes of human, mouse, Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, Arabidopsis thaliana and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In the animal genomes, the extended SDRs amount to around one quarter or less of the total number of SDRs, while in the A. thaliana and S. cerevisiae genomes, the extended members constitute about 40% of the SDR forms. The numbers of NAD(H)-dependent and NADP(H)-dependent SDRs are similar in human, mouse and plant, while the proportions of NAD(H)-dependent enzymes are much lower in fruit fly, worm and yeast. We show that, in spite of the great diversity of the SDR superfamily, the primary structure alone can be used for functional assignments and for predictions of coenzyme preference.