Intracellular microelectrode recordings have been made from probable motoneurons in the spinal cord of Xenopus laevis embryos during fictive `swimming' in preparations paralysed with the neuromuscular blocking agent tubocurarine. These cells had resting potentials of -50 mV or more. During spontaneous or stimulus-evoked `swimming' episodes: (a) the cells were tonically excited; the level of tonic synaptic excitation and the conductance increase underlying it were both inversely related to the `swimming' cycle period; (b) the cells usually fired one spike per cycle in phase with the motor root burst on the same side; spikes did not overshoot zero and were evoked by phasic excitatory synaptic input on each cycle, superimposed on the tonic excitation; (c) in phase with motor root discharge on the opposite side of the body, the cells were hyperpolarized by a chloride-dependent inhibitory postsynaptic potential. The nature of synaptic potentials during `swimming' was evaluated by means of intracellular current injections. The `swimming' activity could be controlled by natural stimuli. The results provide clear evidence on the relation of tonic excitation to rhythmic locomotory pattern generation, and indirect evidence for reciprocal inhibitory coupling between antagonistic motor systems.