An intensive measurement campaign was undertaken to characterize eight fractions of organic carbon (OC) and elemental carbon (EC) in particulate matter (PM) at four urban sites with different pollution characteristics during summer, post-monsoon, and winter at Kanpur, India. Speciation samplers were used to collect particulate samples on quartz filters followed by analysis of OC and EC using Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE)-based thermal/optical reflectance (TOR) method. Based on 24-h average results at each site, the highest levels of OC and EC were observed during winter as 96.7 ± 26.9 and 31.8 ± 9.8 μg/m3 at residential site and traffic site, respectively. The levels of OC at residential sites during winter appeared to be more than twice of that during summer. The site close to the road traffic had the least value of OC/EC, as 1.77 ± 0.28 during post-monsoon, and the site influenced by emissions of domestic cooking and heating had the highest value of OC/EC, as 4.05 ± 0.79 during winter. The average abundances of OC1, OC2, OC3, OC4, OP, EC1, EC2, and EC3 in total carbon (TC) at all sites for three seasons were 10.03, 19.04, 20.03, 12.32, 10.53, 33.39, 3.21, and 1.99 %, respectively. A sharp increase in levels of OC1 and EC1-OP during winter at two residential sites revealed that biomass burning could be a significant contributor to carbonaceous aerosols. From the application of EC-tracer method, it was observed that contribution of secondary organic carbon (SOC) to PM mass increased from 5 % during post-monsoon to 16 % during winter at residential sites and from 2 % during post-monsoon to 7 % during winter at traffic sites. Therefore, it could be inferred that increase in primary emissions coupled with unfavorable meteorological conditions could cause particle agglomeration and hygroscopic growth, leading to unpleasant pollution episode during winter. © 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.