The purpose of this study is to investigate comparative tribological behaviors of Cu-doped TiN, CrN, and MoN coatings under a wide range of dry sliding conditions. TiN and CrN coatings have been developed and used by industry in numerous tribological applications including, machining, manufacturing and transportation. In contrast, MoN has attracted very little attention as a tribological coating in the past, despite being much harder than both TiN and CrN. In this paper, we will mainly concentrate on the Cu-doped versions of these coatings whose tribological properties have not yet been fully explored. The results of this study have confirmed that the addition of Cu into TiN, CrN and MoN coatings has indeed modified the grain size and morphology, but had a beneficial effect only on the friction and wear behavior of MoN. The tribological behavior of CrN did not change much with the addition of Cu but that of TiN became worse after Cu additions. Raman spectroscopy technique was used to elucidate the structural and chemical natures of the oxide films forming on sliding surfaces of Cu-doped TiN, CrN and MoN films. The differences in the friction and wear behavior of Cu-doped TiN, CrN, and MoN is fully considered and a mechanistic explanation has been provided using the principles of a crystal chemical model that can relate the lubricity of complex oxides to their ionic potentials. (c) 2007 Published by Elsevier Ltd.