The respiratory care academic community has not yet adopted a standardized system for classifying and describing modes of ventilation. As a result, there is enough confusion that patient care, clinician education and even ventilator sales are all put at risk. This article summarizes a ventilator mode taxonomy that has been extensively published over the last 15 years. Specifically, the classification system has three components: a description of the control variables within breath; a description of the sequence of mandatory and spontaneous breaths; and a specification for the targeting scheme. This three-level specification provides scalability of detail to make the mode description appropriate for the particular need. At the bedside, we need only refer to a mode briefly using the first or perhaps first and second components. To distinguish between similar modes and brand names, we would need to include all components. This taxonomy uses the equation of motion for the respiratory system as the underlying theoretical framework. All terms relevant to describing modes of mechanical ventilation are defined in an extensive appendix.