Respiratory function is fundamental in the practice of anesthesia. Knowledge of basic physiologic principles of respiration assists in the proper implementation of daily actions of induction and maintenance of general anesthesia, delivery of mechanical ventilation, discontinuation of mechanical and pharmacologic support, and return to the preoperative state. The current work provides a review of classic physiology and emphasizes features important to the anesthesiologist. The material is divided in two main sections, gas exchange and respiratory mechanics; each section presents the physiology as the basis of abnormal states. We review the path of oxygen from air to the artery and of carbon dioxide the opposite way, and we have the causes of hypoxemia and of hypercarbia based on these very footpaths. We present the actions of pressure, flow, and volume as the normal determinants of ventilation, and we review the resulting abnormalities in terms of changes of resistance and compliance.