Certain aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases prevent potential errors in protein synthesis through deacylation of mischarged tRNAs. For example, the close homologs isoleucyl-tRNA synthetase (IleRS) and valyl-tRNA synthetase (ValRS) deacylate Val-tRNA(Ile) and Thr-tRNA(Val), respectively. Here we examined the chemical requirements at the 3'-end of the tRNA for these hydrolysis reactions. Single atom substitutions at the 2'- and 3'-hydroxyls of a variety of mischarged RNAs revealed that, while acylation is at the 2'-OH for both enzymes, IleRS catalyzes deacylation specifically from the 3'-OH and not from the 2'-OH. In contrast, ValRS can deacylate non-cognate amino acids from the 2'-OH. Moreover, for IleRS the specificity for a 3'-O location of the scissile ester bond could be forced to the 2'-position by introduction of a 3'-O-methyl moiety. Cumulatively, these and other results suggest that the editing sites of these class I aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases have a degree of inherent plasticity for substrate recognition. The ability to adapt to subtle differences in mischarged RNAs may be important for the high accuracy of aminoacylation.