As with transcription from DNA templates, RNA synthesis from viral RNA templates must initiate accurately. RNA sequences named specificity and initiation determinants allow recognition of and coordinated interaction with the viral replication enzyme. Using enriched replicase from brome mosaic virus (BMV)-infected plants and variants of the promoter template for minus-strand and subgenomic RNA initiation, we found that a specificity determinant for minus-strand initiation could function at variable distances and positions from the 3' initiation site in a manner similar to enhancers of transcription from DNA templates. This determinant's addition could convert a cellular tRNA into a template for RNA synthesis by the BMV replicase in vitro. Furthermore, the same specificity element could direct internal initiation, which occurred at a highly preferred site in a manner distinct from initiation at the 3' terminus of the template. These results document two distinct modes of initiation site recognition by a viral RNA replicase.