Over the last decade, a debate has developed about the mechanism of the passive or 'diffusive' component of intestinal glucose absorption and, indeed, whether it even exists. Pappenheimer and colleagues have proposed that paracellular solvent drag contributes a passive component, which, at high concentrations of sugars similar to those in the jejunal lumen immediately after a meal, is severalfold greater than the active component mediated by the Na+-glucose cotransporter SGLT1. On the other hand, Ferraris & Diamond maintain that the kinetics of glucose absorption can be explained solely in terms of SGLT1 and that a passive or paracellular component plays little, if any, part. Recently, we have provided new evidence that the passive component of glucose absorption exists, but is in fact facilitated since it is mediated by the rapid, glucose-dependent activation and recruitment of the facilitative glucose transporter GLUT2 to the brush-border membrane; regulation involves a protein kinase C (PKC)-dependent pathway activated by glucose transport through SGLT1 and also involves mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase) signalling pathways. This topical review seeks to highlight the significant points of the debate, to show how our proposals on GLUT2 impact on different aspects of the debate and to look at the regulatory events that are likely to be involved in the short-term regulation of sugar absorption during the assimilation of a meal.