Four types of Sindbis virus vectors, each carrying two promoters for subgenomic mRNA synthesis, were designed to measure relative promoter strengths and to survey potential contextual effects on promoter strengths. One of the promoters in each vector was used as the reference promoter, while the other was the one being tested. We used these vectors to measure the relative strengths of four promoters: the minimal promoter, an extended sequence believed to have full promoter activity, and two mutant promoters, one with an inactivating 3-nucleotide insertion called CR4.1 and the other with a 4-nucleotide deletion called delta 4. The strengths of the promoters were measured by quantitating the RNA transcribed from each promoter in vivo and also by assaying for chloramphenicol acetyltransferase activity encoded by one of the two transcripts. We found that the relative strengths of the promoters were similar in different contexts. The complete promoter was 6-fold more active, the delta 4 promoter was (surprisingly) about twice as active, and the CR4.1 promoter was 100-fold less active than the minimal promoter. At least two contextual effects were identified that can alter the activity of one or both promoters in the vectors. One effect is that given identical promoters, the 3'-proximal promoter on the minus-strand template can be more active than the 5'-proximal promoter. This may be due to preferential association of one or more components of the transcription complex for the 3' end of the minus-strand template. A second effect is promoter competition, particularly when the promoters are closely spaced.