The poly(A)-limiting element (PLE) is a conserved sequence that restricts the length of the poly(A) tail to <20 nt. This study compared the translation of PLE-containing short poly(A) mRNA expressed in cells with translation in vitro of mRNAs with varying length poly(A) tails. In transfected cells, PLE-containing mRNA had a <20-nt poly(A) and accumulated to a level 20% higher than a matching control without a PLE. It was translated as well as the matching control mRNA with long poly(A) and showed equivalent binding to polysomes. Translation in a HeLa cell cytoplasmic extract was used to examine the impact of the PLE in the context of varying length poly(A) tails. Here the overall translation of +PLE mRNA was less than control mRNA with the same length poly(A), and the PLE did not overcome the effect of a short poly(A) tail. Because poly(A)-binding protein (PABP) is a dominant effector of poly(A)-dependent translation we reasoned excess PABP in our extract might overwhelm PLE regulation of translation. This was confirmed by experiments where PABP was inactivated with poly(rA) or Paip2, and the effect of both treatments was reversed by addition of recombinant PABP. These data indicate that the PLE functionally substitutes for bound PABP to stimulate translation of short poly(A) mRNA.