Carbonyls are an important group of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that play critical roles in tropospheric chemistry. To better understand the formation mechanisms of carbonyl compounds, extensive measurements of carbonyls and related parameters were conducted in Beijing in summer 2008. Formaldehyde (11.17 ± 5.32 ppbv), acetone (6.98 ± 3.01 ppbv), and acetaldehyde (5.27 ± 2.24 ppbv) were the most abundant carbonyl species. Two dicarbonyls, glyoxal (0.68 ± 0.26 ppbv) and methylglyoxal (MGLY; 1.10 ± 0.44 ppbv), were also present in relatively high concentrations. An observation-based chemical box model was used to simulate the in situ production of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, glyoxal, and MGLY and quantify their contributions to ozone formation and ROx budget. All four carbonyls showed similar formation mechanisms but exhibited different precursor distributions. Alkenes (mainly isoprene and ethene) were the dominant precursors of formaldehyde, while both alkenes (e.g., propene, i-butene, and cis-2-pentene) and alkanes (mainly i-pentane) were major precursors of acetaldehyde. For dicarbonyls, both isoprene and aromatic VOCs were the dominant parent hydrocarbons of glyoxal and MGLY. Photolysis of oxygenated VOCs was the dominant source of ROx radicals (approximately >80% for HO2 and approximately >70% for RO2) in Beijing. Ozone production occurred under a mixed-control regime with carbonyls being the key VOC species. Overall, this study provides some new insights into the formation mechanisms of carbonyls, especially their parent hydrocarbon species, and underlines the important role of carbonyls in radical chemistry and ozone pollution in Beijing. Reducing the emissions of alkenes and aromatics would be an effective way to mitigate photochemical pollution in Beijing.