Abstract The valencies of the lanthanides vary more than was once thought. In addition to valencies associated with a half-full shell, there are valencies associated with a quarter- and three-quarter-full shell. This can be explained on the basis of Slater’s theory of many-electron atoms. The same theory explains the variation in complexing constants in the trivalent state (the “tetrad effect”). Valency in metallic and organometallic compounds is also discussed.