To assess the effects that the physical and chemical properties of lignin might have on the enzymatic hydrolysis of pretreated lignocellulosic substrates, protease treated lignin (PTL) and cellulolytic enzyme lignin (CEL) fractions, isolated from steam and organosolv pretreated corn stover, poplar, and lodgepole pine, were prepared and characterized. The adsorption of cellulases to the isolated lignin preparations corresponded to a Langmuir adsorption isotherm. It was apparent that, rather than the physical properties of the isolated lignin, the carboxylic acid functionality of the isolated lignin, as determined by FTIR and NMR spectroscopy, had much more of an influence when lignin was added to typical hydrolysis of pure cellulose (Avicel). An increase in the carboxylic content of the lignin preparation resulted in an increased hydrolysis yield. These results suggested that the carboxylic acids within the lignin partially alleviate non-productive binding of cellulases to lignin. To try to confirm this possible mechanism, dehydrogenative polymers (DHP) of monolignols were synthesized from coniferyl alcohol (CA) and ferulic acid (FA), and these model compounds were added to a typical enzymatic hydrolysis of Avicel. The DHP from FA, which was enriched in carboxylic acid groups compared with the DHP from CA, adsorbed a lower mount of cellulases and did not decrease hydrolysis yields when compared to the DHP from CA, which decreased the hydrolysis of Avicel by 8.4%. Thus, increasing the carboxylic acid content of the lignin seemed to significantly decrease the non-productive binding of cellulases and consequently increased the enzymatic hydrolysis of the cellulose. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2011; 108:538–548. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.