Summary. Anticardiolipin antibodies, one of the family of ‘antiphospholipid’ antibodies, increase the risk of venous thromboembolism in the presence of autoimmune disease. Our objective was to determine prospectively whether there is a positive association between anticardiolipin antibodies and venous thromboembolism in ostensibly healthy adults. We conducted a nested case–control study (n = 317 patients and n = 655 control subjects) in a longitudinal study of over 20 000 participants. Baseline (prediagnosis) anticardiolipin IgG and IgM antibodies were assessed by enzyme-linked immunoassays. Venous thromboembolism was validated using standardized criteria for venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. There was no association between anticardiolipin antibodies and subsequent venous thromboembolism occurrence, overall or in any subgroup. For example, the multivariate-adjusted relative risk was 0·88 (95% confidence interval, 0·43, 1·78) for greater than versus less than the 95th percentile of anticardiolipin IgG. In conclusion, in this general population sample, an elevated anticardiolipin antibody level was not a risk factor for venous thromboembolism.