The mafic lavas of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands are of a highly varied composition, reflecting a complex history of magma genesis and a variety of source compositions. The lavas of the Cape Verde Islands are characteristically highly silica undersaturated, with alkali-rich ankaramites, larnite-normative melilitites and carbonatites. In contrast, the lavas of the Azores vary from strongly nepheline- to hypersthene-normative types. Isotopic ratios and trace elements also show considerable variation, consistent with derivation from multicomponent mantle sources. Three distinct groupings of lava compositions can be seen in Pb-Sr-Nd isotope space, and each is characterized by its own trace-element enrichment. (i) The majority of the lavas from the Azores and northern Cape Verdes Islands have isotope and trace-element systematics similar to basalts recovered from elevated segments of the mid-Atlantic Ridge (eg during Deep Sea Drilling Project Leg 82) (Ba/La <12, 206Pb/ 204Pb=19.3-20.0). (ii) The islands of Sao Miguel and Faial in the Azores are characterized by radiogenic strontium and lead isotope ratios and marked fractionation of the most incompatible trace elements (eg 87Sr/ 86Sr=0.70522, 206Pb/ 204Pb=19.88, 207Pb/ 204Pb=15.75, Ba/Nb=12, La/Nb=0.84). (iii) In contrast, the southern Cape Verde Islands have relatively unradiogenic Pb-Sr-Nd isotope ratios (eg 87Sr/ 86Sr=0.70393, 206Pb/ 204Pb=18.74, 207Pb/ 204Pb=15.53, Ba/La=22, Ba/Nb=15, La/Nb=0.67).Mixing relationships between isotope and trace-element ratios indicate the involvement of at least four, and possibly five, chemically distinct source regions in the petrogenesis of mafic lavas. It is shown that these different source regions represent combinations of the depleted upper mantle (mid-ocean ridge basalt source), recycled oceanic lithosphere and two components of the subcontinental lithospheric mantle. No direct unequivocal evidence is found for a fifth component, namely undepleted primitive mantle reservoir, although helium isotope data suggest influxes of material and heat from the lower mantle. Similarly, it is suggested that continental crust has no direct contribution to the petrogenesis of these ocean island basalts and its role in the mantle is limited to the production/modification of the subcontinental lithosphere above subduction zones.