AbstractIncreasing the surface hydrophilicity of polyetherimide (PEI) through partial hydrolysis of the imide groups while maintaining the length of the main-chain was explored for adjusting its function in biomedical and membrane applications. The outcome of the polymer analogous reaction, i.e., the degree of ring opening and chain cleavage, is difficult to address in bulk and microstructured systems, as these changes only occur at the interface. Here, the reaction was studied at the air–water interface using the Langmuir technique, assisted by atomic force microscopy and vibrational spectroscopy. Slow PEI hydrolysis sets in at pH > 12. At pH = 14, the ring opening is nearly instantaneous. Reduction of the layer viscosity with time at pH = 14 suggested moderate chain cleavage. No hydrolysis was observed at pH = 1. Hydrolyzed PEI films had a much more cohesive structure, suggesting that the nanoporous morphology of PEI can be tuned via hydrolysis.