The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of and a need to update the traditional view of transmission pathways for respiratory viruses. The long-standing definitions of droplet and airborne transmission do not account for the mechanisms by which virus-laden respiratory droplets and aerosols travel through the air and lead to infection. In this Review, we discuss current evidence regarding the transmission of respiratory viruses by aerosols—how they are generated, transported, and deposited, as well as the factors affecting the relative contributions of droplet-spray deposition versus aerosol inhalation as modes of transmission. Improved understanding of aerosol transmission brought about by studies of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection requires a reevaluation of the major transmission pathways for other respiratory viruses, which will allow better-informed controls to reduce airborne transmission.