T lymphocytes expressing γδ T cell antigen receptors (TCRs) comprise evolutionarily conserved cells with paradoxical features. On the one hand, clonally expanded γδ T cells with unique specificities typify adaptive immunity. Conversely, large compartments of γδTCR+ intraepithelial lymphocytes (γδ IELs) exhibit limited TCR diversity and effect rapid, innate-like tissue surveillance. The development of several γδ IEL compartments depends on epithelial expression of genes encoding butyrophilin-like (Btnl (mouse) or BTNL (human)) members of the B7 superfamily of T cell co-stimulators. Here we found that responsiveness to Btnl or BTNL proteins was mediated by germline-encoded motifs within the cognate TCR variable γ-chains (Vγ chains) of mouse and human γδ IELs. This was in contrast to diverse antigen recognition by clonally restricted complementarity-determining regions CDR1–CDR3 of the same γδTCRs. Hence, the γδTCR intrinsically combines innate immunity and adaptive immunity by using spatially distinct regions to discriminate non-clonal agonist-selecting elements from clone-specific ligands. The broader implications for antigen-receptor biology are considered.