One of the most important reactions in organic chemistry—amide bond formation—is often overlooked as a contemporary challenge because of the widespread occurrence of amides in modern pharmaceuticals and biologically active compounds. But existing methods are reaching their inherent limits, and concerns about their waste and expense are becoming sharper. Novel chemical approaches to amide formation are therefore being developed. Here we review and summarize a new generation of amide-forming reactions that may contribute to solving these problems. We also consider their potential application to current synthetic challenges, including the development of catalytic amide formation, the synthesis of therapeutic peptides and the preparation of modified peptides and proteins.