Dinoflagellates (Alveolata) are one of the ecologically most important groups of modern phytoplankton. Their biological complexity makes assessment of their global diversity and community structure difficult. We used massive V9 18S rDNA sequencing from 106 size-fractionated plankton communities collected across the world's surface oceans during the Tara Oceans expedition (2009–2012) to assess patterns of pelagic dinoflagellate diversity and community structuring over global taxonomic and ecological scales. Our data and analyses suggest that dinoflagellate diversity has been largely underestimated, representing overall ∼1/2 of protistan rDNA metabarcode richness assigned at ≥ 90% to a reference sequence in the world's surface oceans. Dinoflagellate metabarcode diversity and abundance display regular patterns across the global scale, with different order-level taxonomic compositions across organismal size fractions. While the pico to nano-planktonic communities are composed of an extreme diversity of metabarcodes assigned to Gymnodiniales or are simply undetermined, most micro-dinoflagellate metabarcodes relate to the well-referenced Gonyaulacales and Peridiniales orders, and a lower abundance and diversity of essentially symbiotic Peridiniales is unveiled in the meso-plankton. Our analyses could help future development of biogeochemical models of pelagic systems integrating the separation of dinoflagellates into functional groups according to plankton size classes.