Encalypta species often have lingulate leaves with crenulate margins and strongly differentiated upper and lower leaf cells. The lower leaf cells are usually enlarged, rectangular, smooth, and hyaline with thick, reddish transverse end walls, while the upper cells are usually small, isodiametric, pluripapillose on both surfaces, and evenly thickened. Its capsules are cylindric, and often furrowed. The calyptrae in Encalypta are long, campanulate-mitrate, and shaped like an antique candle snuffer, hence its common name: extinguisher moss. A nearly identical type of calyptra is also found in Schlotheimia.
The phylogenetic relationships of the Encalyptaceae are unsettled due to conflicting evidence provided by its gametophyte and sporophyte. The family is sometimes placed close to the Orthotrichaceae (Dixon 1932) because of its ribbed capsules, mitrate calyptrae, and double peristome. The peristome in the Encalyptaceae however, is extremely variable in form (see Edwards 1984), and its irregular peristomial pattern can be difficult to interpret. In at least some species of Encalypta with double peristomes, the endostomial segments are positioned opposite rather than alternating with the exostome teeth (see Edwards 1984, Vitt 1984). On the basis of gametophytic leaf features, such as its smooth, hyaline basal cells and quadrate, pluripapillose upper cells with c-shaped, coronate papillae on both surfaces the family has also been aligned with the Calymperaceae or Pottiaceae (Crum & Anderson 1981, Vitt 1984). Recently Goffinet & Cox (2000), on the basis of molecular evidence, suggested a relationship of the family with the Funariaceae.