Herbicides that act by inhibiting the biosynthesis of very-long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) have been used to control grass weeds in major crops throughout the world for the past 60 years. VLCFA-inhibiting herbicides are generally highly selective in crops, induce similar symptoms in susceptible grasses and can be found within the herbicide groups classified by the HRAC as K3 and N. Even after many years of continuous use, only 12 grass weed species have evolved resistance to VLCFA-inhibiting herbicides. Here, the cases of resistance that have evolved in major grass weed species belonging to the Avena, Echinochloa and Lolium genera in three different agricultural systems are reviewed. In particular we explore the possible reasons why VLCFA herbicides have been slow to select resistant weeds, outline the herbicide mode of action and discuss the resistance mechanisms that are most likely to have been selected. © 2014 Society of Chemical Industry.