A four-node corotational quadrilateral elastoplastic shell element is presented. The local coordinate system of the element is defined by the two bisectors of the diagonal vectors generated from the four corner nodes and their cross product. This local coordinate system rotates rigidly with the element but does not deform with the element. As a result, the element rigid-body rotations are excluded in calculating the local nodal variables from the global nodal variables. The two smallest components of each nodal orientation vector are defined as rotational variables, leading to the desired additive property for all nodal variables in a nonlinear incremental solution procedure. Different from other existing corotational finite-element formulations, the resulting element tangent stiffness matrix is symmetric owing to the commutativity of the local nodal variables in calculating the second derivative of strains with respect to these variables. For elastoplastic analyses, the Maxwell–Huber–Hencky–von Mises yield criterion is employed, together with the backward-Euler return-mapping method, for the evaluation of the elastoplastic stress state; the consistent tangent modulus matrix is derived. To eliminate locking problems, we use the assumed strain method. Several elastic patch tests and elastoplastic plate/shell problems undergoing large deformation are solved to demonstrate the computational efficiency and accuracy of the proposed formulation. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.