Purpose The St George’s Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) has clearly acquired the status of legacy questionnaire for measuring health-related quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The main aim of this study was to assess the underlying dimensionality of the SGRQ and to investigate the added value of the empirical weights used to calculate total scores. Methods The official Dutch translation of the SGRQ was completed by 444 COPD patients participating in two clinical studies. These data were used for secondary data analysis in this study. Three complementary statistical methods were used to assess dimensionality: Mokken scale analysis (MSA), parametric multidimensional item response theory (IRT) and bifactor analysis. Additionally, the original SGRQ weighting procedure was compared to IRT-based weighting. Results The results of the MSA and multidimensional item response theory (MIRT) pointed toward a unidimensional structure. The bifactor analyses indicated that there was a strong general factor, but the group factors did have additional value. Nineteen items performed poorly in the MSA, MIRT analysis or both. Shortening the scale from 50 to 31 items did not negatively impact measurement precision. SGRQ total score and IRT-derived scores correlated strongly, 0.90 for the one-parameter model and 0.99 for the two-parameter model. Conclusion The SGRQ contains some multidimensionality, but an abbreviated version can be used as a unidimensional tool in patients with COPD. Subscale scores should be used with care. SGRQ total scores correlated highly with IRT-based scores, and thus, the weighting methods may be used interchangeably to calculate total scores.