The respiratory effects of halothane, isoflurane and enflurane were assessed during nitrous oxide anaesthesia (N2O 50%) in three groups of unstimulated, spontaneously breathing children who weighed 10-20 kg and were aged 1-6 years. Respiratory variables were measured or calculated from capnographic and pneumotachographic recordings at three multiples of minimal alveolar concentration (MAC). The slope of the carbon dioxide response was measured. Similar increases in end tidal carbon dioxide were found for the three agents at each MAC multiple, and similar decreases in tidal volume and in the slope of the ventilatory response to carbon dioxide. A dose-related tachypnoea occurred with halothane and a significant decrease in the duration of inspiration and the duration of each breath at the deepest level of anaesthesia. A significant increase in both these times occurred with enflurane, and a decrease in respiratory rate. No change in respiratory rate occurred with isoflurane at increasing alveolar concentrations whereas at each level of anaesthesia inspiratory time was significantly reduced.