The diagnostic value of typical symptoms and abnormal chest signs for pneumonia have been evaluated against a radiographic reference standard in 402 adult patients with respiratory tract infection in general practice. Pneumonia was diagnosed in 20 patients by a positive chest radiograph. The doctors diagnosed pneumonia in seven of these on the basis of history and physical examination alone, and in addition in 22 patients with normal radiographs. The diagnostic value of the typical symptoms cough, chest pain, and dyspnoea, reported by the patients on a questionnaire, increased with increasing intensity of the symptoms, and both "very annoying lateral chest pain" and "very annoying dyspnoea" had likelihood ratios (LR) between 4 and 5. The LR of crackles was 3.7. When evaluated against the doctor's clinical diagnosis of pneumonia as reference standard, crackles achieved an LR of 14.8, while the typical symptoms achieved lower LRs than when evaluated against the radiographic reference standard. These discrepancies, which were confirmed by logistic regression, indicate that crackles and other abnormal chest findings are interpreted too frequently as features of pneumonia and that the importance of typical symptoms is underestimated in the diagnosis of pneumonia.