Previous treatments of the relationship between the mass fraction of released magma volatiles and the eruption speeds of gas and pyroclasts in steady explosive eruptions have not taken detailed account of the dynamic effects associated with the finite size distribution of the pyroclasts. When this is done, it is found that previously published estimates of exsolved magma volatile contents obtained from the analysis of pyroclast size distributions in near-vent deposits overestimate the volatile content by approximately 20 per cent in the case of Plinian eruptions. The discrepancy is much worse for pyroclast size distributions skewed towards coarse clasts, as is common in basaltic lava fountains; in such cases pyroclast dispersal studies may overestimate the exsolved magma volatile content by at least 200 per cent. An analogous problem arises if released magma volatile amounts deduced from studies of fluid inclusions in pyroclasts are inserted into most current computer models of eruption dynamics, but the gas eruption speeds deduced have an even larger error, being underestimated by up to 300 per cent in the case of coarse-grained eruptions. The more sophisticated of the currently available numerical models of eruption dynamics can in principle avoid this problem, but practical implementation limitations have so far prevented such models being run with a sufficiently wide range of grain sizes for the importance of these effects to be fully appreciated.