The 3' untranslated region (3'UTR) of many eukaryotic mRNAs is essential for their control during early development. Negative translational control elements in 3'UTRs regulate pattern formation, cell fate, and sex determination in a variety of organisms, tra-2 mRNA in Caenorhabditis elegans is required for female development but must be repressed to permit spermatogenesis in hermaphrodites. Translational repression of tra-2 mRNA in C. elegans is mediated by tandemly repeated elements in its 3'UTR; these elements are called TGEs (for tra-2 and GLI element). To examine the mechanism of TGE-mediated repression, we first demonstrate that TGE-mediated translational repression occurs in Xenopus embryos and that Xenopus egg extracts contain a TGE-specific binding factor. Translational repression by the TGEs requires that the mRNA possess a poly(A) tail. We show that in C. elegans, the poly(A) tail of wild-type tra-2 mRNA is shorter than that of a mutant mRNA lacking the TGEs. To determine whether TGEs regulate poly(A) length directly, synthetic tra-2 3'UTRs with and without the TGEs were injected into Xenopus embryos. We find that TGEs accelerate the rate of deadenylation and permit the last 15 adenosines to be removed from the RNA, resulting in the accumulation of fully deadenylated molecules. We conclude that TGE-mediated translational repression involves either interference with poly(A)'s function in translation and/or regulated deadenylation.