Mathematical models of soil nonlinearity in common use and recently developed nonlinear codes are compared to investigate the range of their predictions. We consider equivalent linear formulations with and without frequency-dependent moduli and damping ratios and nonlinear formulations for total and effective stress. Average velocity profiles to 150 m depth with midrange National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program site classifications (B, BC, C, D, and E) in the top 30 m are used to compare the response of a wide range of site conditions from rock to soft soil. Nonlinear soil models are compared using the amplification spectrum, calculated as the ratio of surface ground motion to the input motion at the base of the velocity profile. Peak input motions from 0.1g to 0.9g are considered. For site class B, no significant differences exist between the models considered in this article. For site classes BC and C, differences are small at low input motions (0.1g to 0.2g), but become significant at higher input levels. For site classes D and E the overdamping of frequencies above about 4 Hz by the equivalent linear solution with frequency-independent parameters is apparent for the entire range of input motions considered. The equivalent linear formulation with frequency-dependent moduli and damping ratios under damps relative to the nonlinear models considered for site class C with larger input motions and most input levels for site classes D and E. At larger input motions the underdamping for site classes D and E is not as severe as the overdamping with the frequency-independent formulation, but there are still significant differences in the time domain. A nonlinear formulation is recommended for site classes D and E and for site classes BC and C with input motions greater than a few tenths of the acceleration of gravity. The type of nonlinear formulation to use is driven by considerations of the importance of water content and the availability of laboratory soils data. Our average amplification curves from a nonlinear effective stress formulation compare favorably with observed spectral amplification at class D and E sites in the Seattle area for the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.