Intermediate filament (IF) proteins exist in multiple structural forms within cells including mature IF, short filaments or 'squiggles', and non-filamentous precursors called particles. These forms are interconvertible and their relative abundance is IF type, cell type- and cell cycle stage-dependent. These structures are often associated with molecular motors, such as kinesin and dynein, and are therefore capable of translocating through the cytoplasm along microtubules. The assembly of mature IF from their precursor particles is also coupled to translation. These dynamic properties of IF provide mechanisms for regulating their reorganization and assembly in response to the functional requirements of cells. The recent findings that IF and their precursors are frequently associated with signaling molecules have revealed new functions for IF beyond their more traditional roles as mechanical integrators of cells and tissues.