The extent to which individuals with a chronic physical illness perform their day-to-day activities and maintain the independence and autonomy they desire is both an indicator of adaptation and an important clinical outcome criterion. Yet the concept of functional performance is not well understood. Studies of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have attempted to identify physiologic and psychosocial factors that contribute to functioning in this population. These studies have used a melange of terms, including functional status, functional ability, quality of life, and health status interchangeably. They have also employed a variety of instruments to operationalize functional performance and an assortment of predictors to understand the phenomena. Perhaps as a result of this disarray, no attempt has been made to synthesize the literature for nursing research and practice. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the research on functional performance in people with COPD, indicate areas of understanding and quandary, suggest possible flaws, and propose several new directions for practice and research.