Electrospray ionisation quadrupole time-of-flight tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-QTOF-MS/MS) has been used for characterisation of a selection of naturally occurring and synthetic coumarins from different structural classes. The product ions, suggested in earlier studies by electrospray ionisation ion trap mass spectrometry (ESI-MSn), are unequivocally established for the representative coumarins by virtue of accurate mass measurement. Synthetic coumarins that are unsubstituted in the heterocyclic ring give rise to a major product ion by loss of CO2, whereas those substituted in the heterocyclic ring generally undergo alternative fragmentation releasing neutral species such as ketene or methyl ketene. Naturally occurring coumarins, unsubstituted in the heterocyclic ring and substituted in the benzene ring with chains or rings of hydrocarbons and oxygen, principally fragment at the side chain releasing unsaturated hydrocarbons. The ESI-QTOF-MS/MS behaviour of some naturally occurring and synthetic quinolines which are structurally similar or fragment similarly are included where appropriate. Copyright (C) 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.