We have undertaken a retrospective study of antibody deficient patients, with and without lymphoma, and assessed the ability of specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers to determine if the detection of clonal lymphocyte populations correlates with clinical and immunohistochemical diagnosis of lymphoma. We identified 158 cases with antibody deficiency presenting during the past 20 years. Paraffin-embedded biopsy specimens or slides were available for analysis in a cohort of 34 patients. Of these patients, 29 had common variable immunodeficiency, one X-linked agammaglobulinaemia, one X-linked immunoglobulin deficiency of uncertain cause and three isolated IgG subclass deficiency. We have confirmed that lymphoma in antibody deficiency is predominantly B cell in origin. Clonal lymphocyte populations were demonstrated in biopsies irrespective of histology (16/19 with lymphoma and 11/15 without). Isolated evidence of clonality in biopsy material is therefore an insufficient diagnostic criterion to determine malignancy. Furthermore, our data suggest that clonal expansions are rarely the result of Epstein–Barr virus-driven disease.