The reaction pathways, kinetics and mechanisms underlying the hydrolysis of aliphatic and aromatic nitriles in high-temperature water (HTW) were investigated. The reaction products were the associated amides and carboxylic acids. Autocatalytic kinetics were observed and confirmed by experiment and analysis of the physical chemistry of the HTW reaction environment. A model incorporating two autocatalytic steps captured the observed kinetics well, and the associated optimized rate constants highlighted the key differences in the reaction chemistry of aliphatic and aromatic nitriles. The rate behavior of nitrile hydrolysis at these conditions has tangible consequences regarding optimal processing strategies.