The relationship between masticatory morphology and chewing modes in all living genera of South American rodents in the family Octodontidae was analysed. Chewing directions and the patterns of molar occlusion were assessed. Factor and regression analyses of skull and jaw characters, and attributes of the adductor musculature, especially the line of action of masseters and pterygoids, were performed to check their relations with the chewing modes. Two basic chewing strategies are present in octodontids: oblique unilateral (associated with anterolingual jaw displacement, and alternate occlusion of left and right molar series), and propalinal bilateral (associated with mostly posteroanterior jaw displacement, and simultaneous occlusion). The skull and jaw characters examined are related only partly to these chewing strategies. The temporal pattern of muscle contraction provides a possible explanation for such a functional versatility. Propalinal grinding in octodontids could be achieved through simultaneous muscle contraction, with limited reliance on the lines of action of the involved muscles. Therefore, simultaneous contraction explains a similar propalinal masticatory mode in morphologically disparate genera. In accordance with phylogenetic information, oblique unilateral chewing is primitive in octodontids, and the derived propalinal mode has been developed independently at least twice in the evolution of the family.