A method for dry etching of transition metals. The method for dry etching of a transition metal (or a transition metal alloy such as a silicide) on a substrate comprises providing at least one nitrogen- or phosphorous-containing .pi.-acceptor ligand in proximity to the transition metal, and etching the transition metal to form a volatile transition metal/.pi.-acceptor ligand complex. The dry etching may be performed in a plasma etching system such as a reactive ion etching (RIE) system, a downstream plasma etching system (i.e. a plasma afterglow), a chemically-assisted ion beam etching (CAIBE) system or the like. The dry etching may also be performed by generating the .pi.-acceptor ligands directly from a ligand source gas (e.g. nitrosyl ligands generated from nitric oxide), or from contact with energized particles such as photons, electrons, ions, atoms, or molecules. In some preferred embodiments of the present invention, an intermediary reactant species such as carbonyl or a halide ligand is used for an initial chemical reaction with the transition metal, with the intermediary reactant species being replaced at least in part by the .pi.-acceptor ligand for forming the volatile transition metal/.pi.-acceptor ligand complex.