COPD exacerbations have traditionally been defined on the basis of symptoms or health-care utilization without specific reference to the suspected aetiology. Consequently, the term exacerbation has been used to include all patients experiencing an acute deterioration of symptoms associated with COPD. However, exacerbations are known to result from a variety of causes and do not necessarily constitute an equivalent event in the same patient, between different patients or between individual research studies. We therefore hypothesize that phenotyping exacerbations by aetiology may identify exacerbation subgroups, clarify benefits of therapeutic intervention in the subgroups and overall improve clinical care. An acronym is proposed to facilitate phenotyping COPD exacerbations.