The last two decades have witnessed a tremendous expansion in our knowledge of the mechanisms employed by eukaryotic cells to control gene activity. A critical insight to transcriptional control mechanisms was provided by the discovery of coactivators, a diverse array of cellular factors that connect sequence-specific DNA binding activators to the general transcriptional machinery, or that help activators and the transcriptional apparatus to navigate through the constraints of chromatin. A number of coactivators have been isolated as large multifunctional complexes, and biochemical, genetic, molecular, and cellular strategies have all contributed to uncovering many of their components, activities, and modes of action. Coactivator functions can be broadly divide into two classes: (a) adaptors that direct activator recruitment of the transcriptional apparatus, (b) chromatin-remodeling or -modifying enzymes. Strikingly, several distinct coactivator complexes nonetheless share many subunits and appear to be assembled in a modular fashion. Such structural and functional modularity could provide the cell with building blocks from which to construct a versatile array of coactivator complexes according to its needs. The extent of functional interplay between these different activities in gene-specific transcriptional regulation is only now becoming apparent, and will remain an active area of research for years to come.