Over the past decade, it has been shown that alternative splicing (AS) is a major mechanism for the enhancement of transcriptome and proteome diversity, particularly in mammals. Splicing can be found in species from bacteria to humans, but its prevalence and characteristics vary considerably. Evolutionary studies are helping to address questions that are fundamental to understanding this important process: how and when did AS evolve? Which AS events are functional? What are the evolutionary forces that shaped, and continue to shape, AS? And what determines whether an exon is spliced in a constitutive or alternative manner? In this Review, we summarize the current knowledge of AS and evolution and provide insights into some of these unresolved questions.