Class I isoenzymes of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) were isolated by chromatography of human liver homogenates on DEAE-cellulose, 4-[3-[N-(6-aminocaproyl)-amino]propyl]pyrazole--Sepharose and CM-cellulose. Eight isoenzymes of different subunit composition (alpha gamma 2, gamma 2 gamma 2, alpha gamma 1, alpha beta 1, beta 1 gamma 2, gamma 1 gamma 1, beta 1 gamma 1, and beta 1 beta 1) were purified, and their activities were measured at pH 10.0 by using ethanol, ethylene glycol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, octanol, cyclohexanol, and 16-hydroxyhexadecanoic acid as substrates. Values of Km and kcat for all the isoenzymes, except beta 1 beta 1-ADH, were similar for the oxidation of ethanol but varied markedly for other alcohols. The kcat values for beta 1 beta 1-ADH were invariant (approximately 10 min-1) and much lower (5-15-fold) than those for any other class I isoenzyme studied. Km values for methanol and ethylene glycol were from 5- to 100-fold greater than those for ethanol, depending on the isoenzyme, while those for benzyl alcohol, octanol, and 16-hydroxyhexadecanoic acid were usually 100-1000-fold lower than those for ethanol. The homodimer beta 1 beta 1 had the lowest kcat/Km value for all alcohols studied except methanol and ethylene glycol; kcat values were relatively constant for all isoenzymes acting on all alcohols, and, hence, specificity was manifested principally in the value of Km. Values of Km and kcat/Km revealed for all enzymes examined that the short chain alcohols are the poorest while alcohols with bulky substituents are much better substrates. The experimental values of the kinetic parameters for heterodimers deviate from the calculated average of those of their parent homodimers and, hence, cannot be predicted from the behavior of the latter. Thus, the specificities of both the hetero- and homodimeric isoenzymes of ADH toward a given substrate are characteristics of each. Ethanol proved to be one of the "poorest" substrates examined for all class I isoenzymes which are the predominant forms of the human enzyme. On the basis of kinetic criteria, none of the isoenzymes of class I studied oxidized ethanol in a manner that would indicate an enzymatic preference for that alcohol.