We established a transcription-based binary gene expression system in Caenorhabditis elegans using the recently developed Q system. This system, derived from genes in Neurospora crassa, uses the transcriptional activator QF to induce the expression of target genes. Activation can be efficiently suppressed by the transcriptional repressor QS, and suppression can be relieved by the nontoxic small molecule quinic acid. We used QF, QS and quinic acid to achieve temporal and spatial control of transgene expression in various tissues in C. elegans. We also developed a split Q system, in which we separated QF into two parts encoding its DNA-binding and transcription-activation domains. Each domain showed negligible transcriptional activity when expressed alone, but expression of both reconstituted QF activity, providing additional combinatorial power to control gene expression.