A generalized pushover analysis (GPA) procedure is developed for estimating the inelastic seismic response of structures under earthquake ground excitations. The procedure comprises applying different generalized force vectors separately to the structure in an incremental form with increasing amplitude until a prescribed seismic demand is attained for each generalized force vector. A generalized force vector is expressed as a combination of modal forces, and simulates the instantaneous force distribution acting on the system when a given response parameter reaches its maximum value during dynamic response to a seismic excitation. While any response parameter can be selected arbitrarily, generalized force vectors in the presented study are derived for maximum interstory drift parameters. The maximum value of any other response parameter is then obtained from the envelope of GPAs results. Each nonlinear static analysis under a generalized force vector activates the entire multi-degree of freedom effects simultaneously. Accordingly, inelastic actions develop in members with the contribution of all ‘instantaneous modes’ in the nonlinear response range. Target seismic demands for interstory drifts at the selected stories are calculated from the associated drift expressions. The implementation of the proposed GPA is simpler compared with nonlinear response history analysis, whereas it is less demanding in computational effort when compared with several multi-mode adaptive nonlinear static procedures. Moreover, it does not suffer from the statistical combination of inelastic modal responses obtained separately. The results obtained from building frames have demonstrated that GPA is successful in estimating maximum member deformations and member forces with reference to the response history analysis. When the response is linear elastic, GPA and response spectrum analysis produce identical results. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.