The value of the gas chromatography (GC) and selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry (SIFT-MS) combination for the analysis of trace gases is demonstrated by the quantification of acetone in air samples using the three precursor ions available to SIFT-MS, viz. H3O+, NO+ and O, and by the separation of the isomers 1-propanol and 2-propanol, and their analysis using H3O+ precursor ions. It is shown that the GC/SIFT-MS combination allows for accurate trace gas quantification obviating the regular, time-consuming calibrations that are usually required for the more commonly used detectors of GC systems, and the positive identification of isomers in mixtures that is often challenging using SIFT-MS alone. Thus, the GC/SIFT-MS combination paves the way to more confident analyses of complex mixtures such as exhaled breath. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.