The simultaneous effects of soil–structure interaction, foundation uplift and inelastic behavior of the superstructure on total displacement response of soil–structure systems are investigated. The superstructure is modeled as an equivalent single-degree-of-freedom system with bilinear behavior mounted on a rigid foundation resting on distributed tensionless Winkler springs and dampers. It is well known that the behavior of soil–structure systems can be well described using a limited number of nondimensional parameters. Here, by introducing two new parameters, the concept is extended to inelastic soil–structure systems in which the foundation is allowed to uplift. An extensive parametric study is conducted for a wide range of the key parameters through nonlinear time history analyses. It is shown that while uplifting soil–structure systems experience excessive displacements, in comparison with systems that are not allowed to uplift, ductility demand in the superstructure generally decreases owing to foundation uplift. A new inelastic displacement ratio (IDR) is proposed in conjunction with a nonlinear static analysis of uplifting soil–structure systems. Simplified expressions are also provided to estimate the proposed IDR. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.