We have evaluated the capacity of the three major classes of human Fc gamma R to mediate phagocytosis by measuring the ability of adherent phagocytes to internalize erythrocytes coated with anti-Fc gamma R mAb. Five different cell types were studied, freshly purified monocytes, cultured monocytes, alveolar macrophages, freshly purified polymorphonuclear neutrophilic leukocytes, and PMNs cultured in IFN-gamma. Fc gamma RI and Fc gamma RII on whichever cells they were expressed were capable of phagocytosing anti-Fc gamma R mAb-coated erythrocytes. Furthermore, Fc gamma RIII on mononuclear phagocytes, which appears to be a conventional integral membrane protein that spans the lipid bilayer, was capable of phagocytosing anti-Fc gamma RIII-coated erythrocytes. However, Fc gamma RIII on neutrophils, a molecule linked to the membrane by a phosphatidylinositol-glycan moiety, although binding anti-Fc gamma RIII-coated erythrocytes vigorously was incapable of mounting a phagocytic response. This deficiency correlates with the limited capacity of Fc gamma RIII on neutrophils to mediate superoxide generation and antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity and it may be related to the unique structural features of Fc gamma RIII.