Two theories about the nature of phosphate in soil are current. One holds that soil phosphate is mostly present as particles of iron, aluminium and calcium phosphates: the precipitate-particulate theory. The other holds that phosphate is mostly adsorbed and penetrates heterogeneous, variable-charge particles: the adsorption-penetration theory. This is the only theory that is consistent with and can be deduced from observations. It is my contention that the persistence of the precipitate-particulate theory leads to: wasted research effort in trying to identify the supposed phosphate fractions; failure to recognize the long-term changes in soil phosphate due to repeated applications, and thus to over-fertilisation; and misapprehension about the effects of pH on phosphate availability.