Glycosylation is arguably the most ubiquitous post-translational modification on proteins in microbial and mammalian cells. During the past few years, there has been intensive research demonstrating that carbohydrates, either in pure forms or in conjunction with proteins or lipids, evoke and modulate adaptive immune responses. We now know that carbohydrates can be directly recognized by T cells or participate in T-cell stimulation as components of T-cell epitopes. T-cell recognition of carbohydrate antigens takes place via their presentation by major histocompatibility complex pathways on antigen-presenting cells. In this review, we summarize studies on carbohydrates as T-cell antigens modulating adaptive immune responses. Through discussion of glycan-containing antigens, such as glycoproteins, glycolipids, zwitterionic polysaccharides and carbohydrate-based glycoconjugate vaccines, we will illustrate the key molecular and cellular interactions between carbohydrate antigens and T cells and the implications of these interactions in health and disease.