Empirical research establishing the costs and benefits that can be associated with polycentric urban systems is often called for but rather thin on the ground. In part, this is due to the persistence of what appear to be two analytically distinct approaches in understanding and measuring polycentricity: a morphological approach centring on nodal features and a functional approach focused on the relations between centres. Informed by the oft-overlooked but rich heritage of urban systems research, this paper presents a general theoretical framework that links both approaches and discusses the way both can be measured and compared in a coherent manner. Using the Netherlands as a test case, it is demonstrated that most regions tend to be more morphologically polycentric than functionally polycentric. The difference is largely explained by the size, external connectivity and degree of self-sufficiency of a region's principal centre.