RNA silencing plays a critical role in plant resistance against viruses, with multiple silencing factors participating in antiviral defence. Both RNA and DNA viruses are targeted by the small RNA-directed RNA degradation pathway, with DNA viruses being also targeted by RNA-directed DNA methylation. To evade RNA silencing, plant viruses have evolved a variety of counter-defence mechanisms such as expressing RNA silencing suppressors or adopting silencing-resistant RNA structures. This constant defence-counter defence arms race is likely to have played a major role in defining viral host specificity and in shaping viral and possibly host genomes. Recent studies have provided evidence that RNA silencing also plays a direct role in viral disease induction in plants, with viral RNA silencing suppressors and viral siRNAs as potentially the dominant players in viral pathogenicity. However, questions remain as to whether RNA silencing is the principal mediator of viral pathogenicity or if other RNA silencing-independent mechanisms also account for viral disease induction. RNA silencing has been exploited as a powerful tool for engineering virus resistance in plants as well as in animals. Further understanding of the role of RNA silencing in plant-virus interaction and viral symptom induction is likely to result in novel anti-viral strategies in both plants and animals.