Annual or perennial herbs, or tall woody bamboos. Flowering stems (culms) jointed, internodes hollow or solid; branches arising singly from nodes and subtended by a leaf sheath and 2-keeled prophyll, often fascicled in bamboos. Leaves arranged alternately in 2 ranks, differentiated into sheath, blade, and an adaxial erect appendage at sheath/blade junction (ligule); leaf sheath surrounding and supporting culm-internode, split to base or infrequently tubular with partially or completely fused margins, modified with reduced blade in bamboos (culm sheaths); leaf blades divergent, usually long, narrow and flat, but varying from inrolled and filiform to ovate, veins parallel, sometimes with cross-connecting veinlets (especially in bamboos); ligule membranous or a line of hairs. Inflorescence terminal or axillary, an open, contracted, or spikelike panicle, or composed of lax to spikelike racemes arranged along an elongate central axis, or digitate, paired, or occasionally solitary; axillary inflorescences often many, subtended by spatheoles (specialized bladeless leaf sheaths) and gathered into a leafy compound panicle; spikelets often aggregated into complex clusters in bamboos. Spikelets composed of distichous bracts arranged along a slender axis (rachilla); typically 2 lowest bracts (glumes) empty, subtending 1 to many florets; glumes often poorly differentiated from accompanying bracts in bamboos. Florets composed of 2 opposing bracts enclosing a single small flower, outer bract (lemma) clasping the more delicate, usually 2-keeled inner bract (palea); base of floret often with thickened prolongation articulated with rachilla (callus); lemma often with apical or dorsal bristle (awn), glumes also sometimes awned. Flowers bisexual or unisexual; lodicules (small scales representing perianth) 2, rarely 3 or absent, 3 to many in bamboos, hyaline or fleshy; stamens 3 rarely 1, 2, 6, or more in some bamboos, hypogynous, filaments capillary, anthers versatile; ovary 1-celled, styles (1 or)2(rarely 3), free or united at base, topped by feathery stigmas, exserted from sides or apex of floret. Fruit normally a dry indehiscent caryopsis with thin pericarp firmly adherent to seed, pericarp rarely free, fleshy in some bamboos; embryo small or large; hilum punctate to linear.
Fruit mostly a caryopsis with thin pericarp adnate to the seed, rarely with free seed, still more rarely a nut or berry; caryopsis commonly combined with various parts of the spikelet, or less often the inflorescence, to form a false fruit; seed with starchy endosperm, an embryo at the base of the abaxial face, and a point or line (hilum) on the base or adaxial face marking the connection between pericarp and seed
Flowers usually bisexual, sometimes unisexual, small and inconspicuous; perianth represented by 2, rarely 3, minute hyaline or fleshy scales (lodicules); stamens hypogynous, 1–6, rarely more, usually 3, with delicate filaments and 2-thecous anthers opening by a longitudinal slit or rarely a terminal pore; ovary 1-locular, with 1 anatropous ovule often adnate to the adaxial side of the carpel; styles usually 2, rarely 1 or 3, generally with plumose stigmas
Spikelets consisting of bracts distichously arranged along a slender axis (rhachilla); the two lower bracts (glumes) empty; the succeeding 1 to many bracts (lemmas) each enclosing a flower and opposed by a hyaline scale (palea), the whole (lemma, palea and flower) termed a floret; base of spikelet or floret sometimes with a horny prolongation downwards (callus); glumes or lemmas often bearing 1 or more stiff bristles (awns); this basic pattern of spikelet structure consistent throughout the family, though often much modified by reduction, suppression or elaboration of parts
Leaves solitary at the nodes, sometimes crowded at the base of the stem, alternate and 2-rowed, consisting of sheath, ligule and blade; sheaths encircling the culm, with the margins free and overlapping or ± connate, frequently swollen at the base, the shoulders sometimes extended upwards into triangular auricles; ligule adaxial, placed at the junction of sheath and blade, membranous or reduced to a fringe of hairs, rarely absent (very rarely with a similar abaxial structure—the external ligule); blades usually long and narrow, rarely broad, flat or sometimes rolled or terete, parallel-nerved, rarely with transverse connections, usually passing gradually into the sheath, sometimes amplexicaul or with falcate auricles, rarely narrowed into a false petiole or articulated with the sheath
Inflorescence made up of spikelets arranged in a panicle, or in spikes or racemes, these either solitary, digitate, or disposed along a central axis; usually terminal, sometimes (especially in Andro-pogoneae) numerous, each inflorescence being subtended by a bladeless sheath (spatheole) and the whole flowering branch system condensed into a leafy false panicle
Annual or perennial herbs, rarely shrubs or trees, sometimes with rhizomes or stolons; stems erect, ascending or creeping, usually branched at the base, in perennials with sterile shoots and flowering stems (culms) mixed, in annuals only the latter present; culms cylindrical, rarely flattened, jointed, usually hollow in the internodes, closed at the nodes; branches subtended by a leaf, and with a 2-keeled hyaline leaflet (prophyll) at the base