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A common term for the overarching category of inanimate objects granted an animating force through the imbuing of some form of elemental energy. This classification is always considered to include simple object animation as through the animate object spell (which involves the imbuing of small quantities of positive energy) and the general class of constructs, including golems (which, though far more involved, in the end requires the imbuing of quantities of core element energy, most often earth.) Depending on the sage or scholar, this term may also include mindless undead (which gain their animate qualities from negative energy). However, it never includes so-called "living constructs" such as modrons or warforged, whose forms are far more similar to definitively living beings, simply brought about in alternate fashions.

The question of whether or not to include intelligent items in this category is a sketchy one: while intelligent items given intelligence through the transfer of a soul or mind are definitely not intended to be included in this category, and most consider items created with intelligence as merely another means of bringing about life similarly to that of creating a living construct, naturally intelligent items that were at one point simply animate (though a very rare occurrence, it has been known to happen) have been the topic of countless debates as to their categorization. Some say that such items still hold the status of animate in spite of their intelligence, while others say the development of sentience promotes an animate into the category of living.

A major question among many scholarly circles is the precise nature of the border between animate and living, as some beings — the fundamental the premier example, but also such things as the incarnate — seem to straddle the line. This question seems to be central to the true nature of life; what sets it apart from mere animacy, and why exactly some processes or methods (such as the means to create warforged, independently discovered across many Material worlds) seemingly related purely to the introduction of animacy instead do actually bring about life in one form or another.

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