A series of cladistic analyses assesses the status and membership of the taxon Polychaeta. The available literature, and a review by Fauchald & Rouse (1997), on the 80 accepted families of the Polychaeta are used to develop characters and data matrices. As well as the polychaete families, non-polychaete taxa, such as the Echiura, Euarthropoda, Onychophora, Pogonophora (as Frenulata and Vestimentifera), Clitellata, Aeolosomatidae and Potamodrilidae, are included in the analyses. All trees are rooted using the Sipuncula as outgroup. Characters are based on features (where present) such as the prostomium, peristomium, antennae, palps, nuchal organs, parapodia, stomodaeum, segmental organ structure and distribution, circulation and chaetae. A number of analyses are performed, involving different ways of coding and weighting the characters, as well as the number of taxa included. Transformation series are provided for several of these analyses. One of the analyses is chosen to provide a new classification. The Annelida is found to be monophyletic, though weakly supported, and comprises the Clitellata and Polychaeta. The Polychaeta is monophyletic only if taxa such as the Pogonophora, Aeolosomatidae and Potamodrilidae are included and is also weakly supported. The Pogonophora is reduced to the rank of family within the Polychaeta and reverts to the name Siboglinidae Caullery, 1914. The new classification does not use Linnaean categories, and the Polychaeta comprises two clades, the Scolecida and Palpata. The Palpata has the clades Aciculata and Canalipalpata. The Aciculata contains the Phyllodocida and Eunicida. The Canalipalpata has three clades; the Sabellida (including the Siboglinidae) Spionida and Terebellida. The position of a number of families requires further investigation.