Dengue is the world's most common arboviral infection, with almost 4 billion people estimated to be living at risk of dengue infection. A recently introduced vaccine is currently recommended only for seropositive individuals in a restricted age range determined by transmission intensity. With no effective dengue vaccine for the general population or any antiviral therapy, dengue control continues to rely heavily on vector control measures. Early and accurate diagnosis is important for guiding appropriate management and for disease surveillance to guide prompt dengue control interventions. However, major uncertainties exist in dengue diagnosis and this has important implications for all three. Dengue can be diagnosed clinically against predefined lists of signs and symptoms and by detection of dengue-specific antibodies, non-structural 1 antigen or viral RNA by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. All of these methods have their limitations. This review aims to describe and quantify the advantages, uncertainties and variability of the various diagnostic methods used for dengue and discuss their implications and applications for dengue surveillance and control.