Single cell activity was examined in the three motor fields of the monkey frontal cortex with the aim of comparing the neuronal activity preceding movements triggered by a visual signal to that preceding nontriggered (self-paced) movements. The following findings emerged from this study. 1. Neuronal activity changes were observed at two different phases in relation to the movement onset; the short-lead type observed within 480 ms prior to the movement onset and the long-lead type, beginning earlier (typically 1 to 2 s). 2. Neurons in both the supplementary motor area (SMA) and premotor area (PM) exhibited the short-lead activity changes prior to the triggered and self-paced movement. Their magnitudes were similar in 63% of SMA and in 36% of PM neurons, whether the movement was triggered or self-paced. 3. SMA neurons, as a whole, were not less active before the triggered than self-paced movement. 4. On the other hand, as many as 92 PM neurons (61%) were related exclusively or peferentially to the triggered movement. 5. The majority of precentral motor cortex (MC) neurons exhibited similar activity changes before the two modes of movement initiation. 6. The long lead type of activity changes were observed mainly prior to the self-paced and much less frequently before the triggered movement. They were particularly abundant among SMA neurons. These results do not support the simple dichotomy hypothesis that SMA primarily takes part in self-paced movement and PM is only involved in visually triggered movement. However, PM neurons show relatively more prominent responses to the visual trigger signal and SMA neurons are intimately related to a long-lasting process leading to initiation of the self-paced movement.