The characteristics of the coherent structures in a strongly decelerated large-velocity-defect boundary layer are analysed by direct numerical simulation. The simulated boundary layer starts as a zero-pressure-gradient boundary layer, decelerates under a strong adverse pressure gradient, and separates near the end of the domain, in the form of a very thin separation bubble. The Reynolds number at separation is R e (oee integral) =3912 and the shape factor H=3.43. The three-dimensional spatial correlations of (u, u) and (u, v) are investigated and compared to those of a zero-pressure-gradient boundary layer and another strongly decelerated boundary layer. These velocity pairs lose coherence in the streamwise and spanwise directions as the velocity defect increases. In the outer region, the shape of the correlations suggest that large-scale u structures are less streamwise elongated and more inclined with respect to the wall in large-defect boundary layers. The three-dimensional properties of sweeps and ejections are characterized for the first time in both the zero-pressure-gradient and adverse-pressure-gradient boundary layers, following the method of Lozano-Duran et al. (J. Fluid Mech. 694, 100-130, ). Although longer sweeps and ejections are found in the zero-pressure-gradient boundary layer, with ejections reaching streamwise lengths of 5 boundary layer thicknesses, the sweeps and ejections tend to be bigger in the adverse-pressure-gradient boundary layer. Moreover, small near-wall sweeps and ejections are much less numerous in the large-defect boundary layer. Large sweeps and ejections that reach the wall region (wall-attached) are also less numerous, less streamwise elongated and they occupy less space than in the zero-pressure-gradient boundary layer.