© 2015 British Society of Soil Science. We measured the reaction of inorganic phosphate and of four organic phosphates with three aluminium hydroxides or oxides. We compared the fit of the Langmuir equation with that of an equation designed to allow for the feedback effect of adsorption on the electric potential. We also fitted a four-plane model to describe the effects of pH on adsorption and ζ potential. For inorganic phosphate, the Langmuir equation described adsorption curves poorly, indicating that there was a large feedback effect of adsorption on the electric potential of the adsorption plane. For the organic phosphates, the deviations from the Langmuir equation were not as marked, indicating that there was little feedback effect. Nevertheless, there was a large effect on the ζ potential of the phosphated aluminium (hydr)oxides. We suggest that when a large organic phosphate molecule is adsorbed, the charge conveyed to the surface is repelled electrostatically to the outside of the new surface. There is therefore a large effect on the ζ potential and a small effect on the potential of the adsorption plane. This suggestion was supported by the fit of the four-plane model, for which, with increasing molecular weight, the mean position of the charge conveyed to the surface by adsorption was moved further from the plane carrying the potential determining ions (H+ and OH-).