Prospective comparisons of different drug classes have shown that differences in blood pressure control, rather than differences between drug classes, have the over-riding influence on overall outcome. The same studies have also reinforced the need, in the majority of patients, to use combinations of drugs in order to achieve the target of <140/85 mmHg. By contrast, most patients in routine practice receive single agents and consequently fail to achieve target blood pressure. This failure reflects in part the emphasis in individual studies and subsequent guidelines on comparison of individual drugs. In this article we show how the consistency of both theory and a broad range of evidence permits a didactic approach to combination therapy. Our advice is based on the growing recognition that essential hypertension and its treatment fall into two main categories. Younger Caucasians usually have renin-dependent hypertension that responds well to angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibition or angiotensin receptor blockade (A) or ss blockade (B). Most other patients have low-renin hypertension that responds better to calcium channel blockade (C) or diuretics (D). These latter drugs activate the renin system rendering patients responsive to the addition of renin suppressive therapy. Coincidence of the initials of these main drug classes with the first four letters of the alphabet permits an AB/CD rule, according to which recommended combinations are one drug from each of the "AB" and "CD" categories of drugs. However, the diabetogenic potential of the older "B" and "D" classes leads us to advise against combining "B" and "D" in older patients, and to recommend "A" + "C" + "D" as standard triple therapy for resistant hypertension.