The characteristics of pre-edge peaks in K-edge x-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectra of 3d transition metals were reviewed from viewpoints of the selection rule, coordination number, number of d-electrons, and symmetry of the coordination sphere. The contribution of the electric dipole and quadrupole transition to the peaks was discussed on the basis of the group theory, polarized spectra, and theoretical calculations. The pre-edge peak intensity for Td symmetry is larger than those for Oh symmetry for all 3d elements. The intense pre-edge peak for tetrahedral species of 3d transition metals is not due to 1s–3d transition, but transition to the p component in d–p hybridized orbital. The mixing of metal 4p orbitals with the 3d orbitals depends strongly on the coordination symmetry, and the possibility is predictable by group theory. The transition of 1s electron to d orbitals is electric quadrupole component in any of the symmetries. The d–p hybridization does not occur with regular octahedral symmetry, and the weak pre-edge peak consists of 1s–3d electric quadrupole transition. The pre-edge peak intensity for a compound with a tetrahedral center changes as a function of the number of 3d electrons regardless of the kind of element; it is maximized at d0 and gradually decreases to zero at d10. The features of pre-edge peaks in K-edge XANES spectra for 4d elements and the L1-edge for 5d elements are analogous with those for 3d elements, but the pre-edge peak is broadened due to the wide natural width of the core level. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.