The response characteristics of large-diameter monopiles under lateral loads obviously differ from those of traditional small-diameter piles. To investigate the failure mechanism and soil resistance of laterally-loaded large-diameter monopiles, a series of finite element analyses of monopiles in soft clay were conducted. From the analysis results, an additional rotational soil flow can be ... [Show full abstract] observed in the large-diameter soil-monopile system, but there is only a slight difference (approximately 2–6%) in the bearing capacity of monopiles when the p–y method is utilized with and without rotational soil flow. Consequently, the consideration of the wedge-full-flow mechanism is sufficiently accurate for the monopile design of offshore wind turbines. Moreover, the base shear force and bending moment have an important influence on the lateral behaviour of large-diameter monopiles, and ignoring these additional base resistance components can greatly underestimate (even up to − 30%) the lateral bearing capability and lateral stiffness of semi-rigid and rigid large-diameter monopiles. Modal analysis of the 5 MW wind turbine also shows that this ignorance can lead to an underestimation (nearly 13.0%) of the structure’s natural frequency. To consider the contributions of the additional base resistances to the lateral stiffness and bearing capacity, we developed two new T–u and M–φ springs to expand the current p–y method.