This paper is concerned with the problem of distinguishing between amplifying and evanescent waves. These have, in the past, been distinguished by considerations of energy transfer or of the initial and boundary conditions with which a wave must be associated. Both procedures are open to criticism. The problem is here interpreted kinematically: we investigate the classes of wave functions which a given propagating system may support, without inquiring into the way these disturbances may be set up, and postponing inquiry into the boundary conditions necessary. In this way, we may distinguish between amplifying and evanescent waves by determining whether a wave function which may be analyzed into "real-frequency" waves may also be analyzed into "real-wave-number" waves. This question may be answered by means of a certain diagram, which may be constructed from knowledge of the dispersion relation. Interchange of the roles of time and space leads to the statement and solution of a further problem. If a propagating system is unstable, the instability may be such that a disturbance grows, but is propagated away from the point of origin: this is termed "convective instability." On the other hand, the instability may be such that the disturbance grows in amplitude and in extent, but always embraces the original point of origin: this is termed "nonconvective instability." The statement that the system supports amplifying waves is synonymous with the statement that the system exhibits convective instability. A system which exhibits nonconvective instability may not be used as an amplifier, but may be used as an oscillator. It is possible to distinguish between convective and nonconvective instability by a further diagram which also may be constructed from knowledge of the dispersion relation. Our theory enables us to make the following assertions. If ω is real for all real k, then any complex k, for real ω, denotes an evanescent wave. Conversely, if k is real for all real ω, then any complex ω, for real k, denotes nonconvective instability. The theory is illustrated by certain simple examples and by discussion of the result of weak coupling between certain types of waves.