It is argued that the various types of symbiotic stars and the slow novae are the same phenomena exhibiting a range of associated time-scales, the slow novae being of intermediate speed. Evidence is summarized showing that both types of object contain normal M giants or mira variables. This fact is at odds with currently fashionable single-star models for slow novae, according to which the M star is totally disrupted before the outburst. Spectral types of the late-type components are presented for nearly 80 symbiotic stars and slow novae, derived from 2 ..mu..m spectroscopy. It is found that both the intensity of the emission spectrum and the electron density of the gas are functions of the spectral type of the late-type star. Explanations for these correlations are given. On the assumption that the late-type components are normal giants, spectroscopic parallaxes are determined; credible distances are derived which indicate that the known symbiotic stars have been sampled as far afield as the Galactic Centre. Hydrogen shell flashes on a white dwarf accreting gas from the late-type components offer an attractive explanation of the phenomena of slow novae and symbiotic stars, and such models are discussed in the concluding section.