The transformation of plant biopolymers to humic substances in peats during early diagenesis is a critical but poorly understood step in the formation of coal. This paper presents results concerning the structural interrelationships among various fractions of the organic matter in peat and the dissolved organic matter in the pore water from a site in The Everglades, relying primarily on elemental analysis and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance for structural elucidation. Our goal was to obtaine some insight into the sequence of steps involved in the formation of humic substances. Results show that the major change occurring in the whole peat during diagenesis is loss of carbohydrates. The components of the peat which are more resistant to microbial degradation become concentrated in the humin fraction. This resistant fraction of the organic matter includes aliphatic and aromatic components. The aromatic components are thought to be derived from lignin while the aliphatic moieties may represent decomposed algal remains. The carbohydrates lost from the whole peat appear to be concentrated in the fulvic acids and the dissolved organic matter in the pore water. The humic acids consist predominantly of aromatic and aliphatic structures, and may represent partially degraded lignin-like structures and aliphatic compounds from algae. The data presented here suggest that humic and fulvic acids are the partially degraded fractions of the peat while the humin contains the resistant or preserved portion of the organic matter. The proposition that humic substances are formed by the condensation of amino acids and sugars is not supported by the results of this study. ?? 1987.