Right ventricular (RV) function is a major determinant of the symptomatology and outcome in pulmonary hypertension. The normal RV is a thin-walled flow generator able to accommodate large changes in venous return but unable to maintain flow output in the presence of a brisk increase in pulmonary artery pressure. The RV chronically exposed to pulmonary hypertension undergoes hypertrophic changes and an increase in contractility, allowing for preserved flow output in response to peripheral demand. Failure of systolic function adaptation (homeometric adaptation, described by Anrep's law of the heart) results in increased dimensions (heterometric adaptation; Starling's law of the heart), with a negative effect on diastolic ventricular interactions, limitation of exercise capacity, and vascular congestion. Ventricular function is described by pressure-volume relationships. The gold standard of systolic function is maximum elastance (Emax), or the maximal value of the ratio of pressure to volume. This value is not immediately sensitive to changes in loading conditions. The gold standard of afterload is arterial elastance (Ea), defined by the ratio of pressure at Emax to stroke volume. The optimal coupling of ventricular function to the arterial circulation occurs at an Emax/Ea ratio between 1.5 and 2. Patients with severe pulmonary hypertension present with an increased Emax, a trend toward decreased Emax/Ea, and increased RV dimensions, along with progression of the pulmonary vascular disease, systemic factors, and left ventricular function. The molecular mechanisms of RV systolic failure are currently being investigated. It is important to refer biological findings to sound measurements of function. Surrogates for Emax and Ea are being developed through bedside imaging techniques.