For a long time neutrophil granulocytes were considered simply as terminally differentiated cells with a limited life span and pathogen killing by phagocytosis and chemical toxicity being the sole mode of action. However, work during the last 10 years has started to change this view fundamentally. Modern understanding is that neutrophils have an enormous complexity of functions. This review discusses very recent findings on how neutrophils can control the spread of pathogens and mediate their killing by mechanisms such as formation of DNA nets, how they influence tumour growth and adaptive immune responses and how they manoeuvre inside the diverse compartments of the body. It will also describe how the normally protective functions of neutrophils can have deleterious consequences if they occur in an uncontrolled fashion. These exciting novel findings are likely to completely and permanently change our view of this central leucocyte population.