A model has been formulated to determine the work of pull-out, U, of an elastic fibre as it shear-slides out of a plastic matrix in a fractured composite. The fibres considered in the analysis have the following shapes: uniform cylinder and ellipsoidal, paraboloidal or conical tapers. Energy transfer at the fibre–matrix interface is described by an energy density parameter which is defined as the ratio of U to the fibre surface area. The model predicts that the energy required to pull out a tapered fibre is small because the energy transfer at the fibre–matrix interface to overcome friction is small. In contrast, the pull-out energy of a uniform cylindrical fibre is large because the energy transfer is large. The pull-out energies of the paraboloidal and ellipsoidal fibres lay between those for the uniform cylindrical and the conical fibres. With the exception of the uniform cylindrical fibre which yields a constant energy density, tapered fibres yield expressions for the energy density which depend on the fibre axial ratio, q. In particular, the energy density increases as q increases but converges at large q. By defining the critical axial ratio, q0, as the limit beyond which u is independent of the fibre slenderness, our model predicts the value of q0 to be about 10. These results are applied to explain the mechanisms regulating fibre composite fracture.