A range of biological traits of nematode species were combined to identify patterns in the functional composition of their assemblages collected at 19 soft-bottom stations in the southwestern North Sea with the primary aim to determine which environmental variables control communities. We used 19 categories of five biological traits thought or known to represent an important ecological function. These were related to buccal morphology, tail shape, body size, body shape and life history strategy. Data on trait membership was provided by biological information on species and genera. A total of 79 different trait combinations were recorded. Results from correlation analyses revealed several significant relationships between traits. Some trait combinations were shared by different species and genera, and the ratio of realised versus total number of possible trait combinations of < 1 suggested that some trait combinations were not represented by the nematode fauna from this region. The functional composition of nematodes was strongly linked to median particle diameter and silt content of the sediment and water depth. The approach adopted and our attempts at defining and analysing functional attributes of nematode communities raised a number of conceptual and methodological issues which are discussed.