In the intertidal flats of Bohai Bay, China, the spatial distribution of the grain size of sediments becomes coarser from landward to seaward. To study the grain size effect on multi-element concentrations in sediments, samples along the coastline and 3 horizontal cross-sections were collected from the intertidal flats of Bohai Bay, China, in 1998. Total concentrations of 49 elements, including alkali, alkaline earth, trace metal, rare and rare earth elements, were measured by ICP-AES, ICP-MS and INAA. The results show that sediment texture plays a controlling role on the concentrations and their spatial distribution. Principal component analysis and cluster analysis were carried out based on the grain sizes of the sediments, and the samples were classified into 3 groups: mud, silt-mud and silt. Significant differences among the element concentrations in the 3 groups were observed, and the concentrations of the elements in each group are reported in this study. Most of the elements have their highest concentrations in the fine grained mud samples, in comparison with the silt and silt-mud samples, with clay minerals possibly playing an important role. In contrast, concentrations of Ba, Sr, Hf, and Zr are elevated in the coarse silt samples. Ba and Sr may reside in feldspars, while Zr and Hf are present in zircons. Landward to seaward spatial variation of element concentrations in the sediments is observed, which is in line with the spatial distribution of the grain size and is related to the seawater hydrological dynamics in the intertidal flats. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.