Forty patients with a major depressive episode were divided into equal endogenous and neurotic sub-groups using the Newcastle scale. They were all rated on the 17-item Hamilton scale and with a variety of neuropsychological tests. They were compared with 20 age- and education-matched control subjects. Both endogenous and neurotic groups had impaired memory function on the auditory verbal learning test; recall and recognition were equally impaired suggesting that effort was not a major determinant of performance. The endogenous group was more impaired on digit symbol substitution and the Trail making test (A and B). Impairment was correlated with symptom scores on the Hamilton and Newcastle scales, even after allowing for the effect of age. It is concluded that the conventional distinction between organic and functional impairment breaks down in severe depressive illness. The implications of this for clinical neuropsychological testing and the anatomy of the brain dysfunction in depressive illness are discussed.