The activity of cells in primary motor cortex (MI) and dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) were compared during reaching movements in a reaction-time (RT) task, without prior instructions, which required precise control of limb posture before and after movement. MI neurons typically showed strong, directionally tuned activity prior to and during movement as well as large gradations of tonic activity while holding the limb over different targets. The directionality of their movement- and posture-related activity was generally similar. Proximal-arm muscles behaved similarly. This is consistent with a role for MI in the moment-to-moment control of motor output, including both movement and actively maintained postures, and suggests a common functional relation for MI cells to both aspects of motor behavior. In contrast, PMd cells were generally more phasic, frequently emitting only strong bursts of activity confined mainly to the behavioral reaction time before movement onset. PMd tonic activity during different postures was generally weaker than in MI, and showed a much more variable relation with their movement-related directional tuning. These results imply that the major contribution of PMd to this RT task occurred prior to the onset of movement itself, consistent with a role for PMd in the selection and planning of visually guided movements. Furthermore, the nature of the relative contribution of PMd to movement versus actively maintained postures appears to be fundamentally different from that in MI. Finally, there was a continuous gradient of changes in responses across the rostrocaudal extent of the precentral gyrus, with no abrupt transition in response properties between PMd and MI.