Three of six arginine codons are read by two tRNA(Arg) isoacceptors in Escherichia coli. The anticodon stem and loop of these isoacceptors (ASL(Arg1,2)) differs only in that the position 32 cytidine of tRNA(Arg1) is posttranscriptionally modified to 2-thiocytidine (s(2)C(32)). The tRNA(Arg1,2) are also modified at positions 34 (inosine, I(34)) and 37 (2-methyladenosine, m(2)A(37)). To investigate the roles of modifications in the structure and function, we analyzed six ASL(Arg1,2) constructs differing in their array of modifications by spectroscopy and codon binding assays. Thermal denaturation and circular dichroism spectroscopy indicated that modifications contribute thermodynamic and base stacking properties, resulting in more order but less stability. NMR-derived structures of the ASL(Arg1,2) showed that the solution structures of the ASLs were nearly identical. Surprisingly, none possessed the U-turn conformation required for effective codon binding on the ribosome. Yet, all ASL(Arg1,2) constructs efficiently bound the cognate CGU codon. Three ASLs with I(34) were able to decode CGC, whereas only the singly modified ASL(Arg1,2)(ICG) with I(34) was able to decode CGA. The dissociation constants for all codon bindings were physiologically relevant (0.4-1.4 μM). However, with the introduction of s(2)C(32) or m(2)A(37) to ASL(Arg1,2)(ICG), the maximum amount of ASL bound to CGU and CGC was significantly reduced. These results suggest that, by allowing loop flexibility, the modifications modulate the conformation of the ASL(Arg1,2), which takes one structure free in solution and two others when bound to the cognate arginyl-tRNA synthetase or to codons on the ribosome where modifications reduce or restrict binding to specific codons.