The uptake of extracellular tracers into synaptic nerve terminals has been a phenomenon of persistent interest. Uptake is into synaptic vesicles, hence vesicles spend part of their life in continuity with the plasma membrane, as expected if exocytosis underlies the quantal discharge of neurotransmitters. However, exactly how or when synaptic vesicles acquire extracellular tracers has not been unambiguously determined. Two schools of thought have developed, one holding that vesicles acquire tracers directly via a reversible exo/endocytotic sequence in which they consistently maintain their biochemical identity during their transient continuity with the plasma membrane, the other holding that synaptic vesicles acquire tracers indirectly, via the formation of clathrin-coated vesicles which are spatially and temporally separate from exocytosis and reverse a temporary loss of the vesicles' individual identity upon merger with the plasma membrane. Efforts to distinguish between these two alternatives have generated an interesting diversity of electron microscopic experiments, many of which are reviewed here. However, definitive determination of which view is correct may ultimately require direct visualization of synaptic vesicle turnover in living nerve terminals. To this end, we here review the results of visualizing endocytosis in tissue cultured cells, where light microscopy can provide sufficient resolution to reveal membrane dynamics in living cells. This has allowed visual discrimination of two different types of endocytosis, one clathrin-mediated (coated vesicle formation) and the other actin-mediated (macropinocytosis). Current work is also reviewed which aims at determining experimental methods for inhibiting each type of endocytosis selectively. Hypertonicity and severe cytoplasmic acidification turn out to inhibit coated vesicle formation, while cytochalasin D and mild cytoplasmic acidification selectively inhibit macropinocytosis. Applied to nerves, these various treatments affect synaptic vesicle turnover in a manner that supports the notion that synaptic vesicle membrane recycles via the "indirect" route of coated vesicle formation.