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At the international level, various definitions have been established for the compilation and publication of forest resources assessment results over the last decade. These international definitions frequently rely on terms that are not precisely specified for inventory purposes and do not completely cover the requirements arising from the application of National Forest Inventory (NFI) data. Also, with respect to conventional topics such as forest area and growing stock estimation, several terms and expressions referring to individual trees are not, or are only vaguely, defined until now. Since the individual tree is the basic element of any forest resources assessment, the clarification of tree-related terms is an important part of COST Action E43 to harmonise common reporting of National Forest Inventories. Based on a review of existing definitions and on the requirements for harmonised reporting, common tree-related definitions are established. One objective of this study is to refine and enhance the applicability of available tree and shrub definitions, in particular with regard to the distinction between trees and shrubs. The study also focuses on the parts or “elements” of trees and on the distinction between these elements as they are of particular importance in growing stock and biomass definitions. Furthermore, several definitions for tree characteristics such as “living” and “standing”, as well as tree variables such as height, length, diameter at breast height, and crown projection area are adjusted with respect to NFI purposes. A concluding discussion reflects upon the reviewed, refined and newly established definitions. The definitions presented in this paper provide a firm basis for a common set of harmonised reference definitions developed by COST Action E43 and contribute to the precise and consistent use of terms.