Staphylococcus aureus is a serious human pathogen with remarkable adaptive powers. Antibiotic-resistant clones rapidly emerge mainly by acquisition of antibiotic-resistance genes from other S. aureus strains or even from other genera. Transfer is mediated by a diverse complement of mobile genetic elements and occurs primarily by conjugation or bacteriophage transduction, with the latter traditionally being perceived as the primary route. Recent work on conjugation and transduction suggests that transfer by these mechanisms may be more extensive than previously thought, in terms of the range of plasmids that can be transferred by conjugation and the efficiency with which transduction occurs. Here, we review the main routes of antibiotic resistance gene transfer in S. aureus in the context of its biology as a human commensal and a life-threatening pathogen. Staphylococcus aureus cells are effective in exchanging mobile genetic elements, including antibiotic-resistance genes.During colonization or infection of host organisms, the exchange appears to be particularly effective.Bacteriophage-mediated transfer involves both transduction and autotransduction, which may enable lysogenic S. aureus cells to acquire antibiotic-resistance genes.Conjugation is more promiscuous than previously anticipated, with transfer of apparently nonconjugative plasmids.Greater understanding of the habitats and the conditions that promote transfer of antibiotic resistance is critical for limiting the spread of resistance.