People's subjective response to any thermal environment is commonly investigated by using rating scales describing the degree of thermal sensation, comfort, and acceptability. Subsequent analyses of results collected in this way rely on the assumption that specific distances between verbal anchors placed on the scale exist and that relationships between verbal anchors from different dimensions that are assessed (e.g. thermal sensation and comfort) do not change. Another inherent assumption is that such scales are independent of the context in which they are used (climate zone, season, etc.). Despite their use worldwide, there is indication that contextual differences influence the way the scales are perceived and therefore question the reliability of the scales’ interpretation. To address this issue, a large international collaborative questionnaire study was conducted in 26 countries, using 21 different languages, which led to a dataset of 8225 questionnaires. Results, analysed by means of robust statistical techniques, revealed that only a subset of the responses are in accordance with the mentioned assumptions. Significant differences appeared between groups of participants in their perception of the scales, both in relation to distances of the anchors and relationships between scales. It was also found that respondents’ interpretations of scales changed with contextual factors, such as climate, season, and language. These findings highlight the need to carefully consider context-dependent factors in interpreting and reporting results from thermal comfort studies or post-occupancy evaluations, as well as to revisit the use of rating scales and the analysis methods used in thermal comfort studies to improve their reliability.