To understand the distribution characteristics of phthalic acid esters (PAEs) in agricultural soils in typical regions of Guangdong Province, surface soil (0-20 cm) samples were collected, and the concentrations of 6 PAEs were determined by gas chromatography. The results showed that the total concentration of the PAEs (sigma PAEs) ranged from not detected to 25.99 mg x kg(-1), and was < or = 1.00 mg x kg(-1) in 92.8% of the samples. The sigma PAEs differed with land use types and regions, and decreased in the sequences of paddy soil > banana soil > vegetable soil > sugarcane soil > orchard soil, and Dongguan > Shantou > Shunde > Zhanjiang > Zhongshan > Zhuhai > Huizhou. Among the test PAEs, DEHP had the highest detection rate (85.1%), DnBP had the highest concentration (not detected to 17.51 mg x kg(-1)). Comparing with the corresponding control limits of soil PAEs in USA, all test PAEs except DnOP were exceeded the limits to some extent, and DnBP, DMP and DEP exceeded seriously, indicating that the agricultural soils in the typical regions of Guangdong Province were contaminated by PAEs.