The terminology relating to the various modifications of radical neck dissection is loose and confusing. A simple system of nomenclature has been suggested which allows specification of the node levels dissected and the structures preserved. A technique of modified neck dissection, which excludes dissection of the posterior triangle and spares the sternocleidomastoid muscle and spinal accessory nerve, has been described. We believe this operation is appropriate when local disease is advanced and clinically uninvolved neck nodes are likely to harbor occult metastatic disease, when resection of the primary tumor is through the neck, or when clinical disease in the neck is minimal. Patients with multiple palpable nodes, patients with nodes larger than 3 cm in diameter, patients with disease in the posterior triangle, and patients in whom radiotherapy to the neck has failed may be better served by radical neck dissection. © 1987.