Recent studies have led to the identification of more than 50 small regulatory RNAs in Escherichia coli. Only a subset of these RNAs has been characterized. However, it is clear that many of the RNAs, such as the MicF, OxyS, DsrA, Spot42 and RyhB RNAs, act by basepairing to activate or repress translation or to destabilize mRNAs. Basepairing between these regulatory RNAs and their target mRNAs requires the Sm-like Hfq protein which most likely functions as an RNA chaperone to increase RNA unfolding or local target RNA concentration. Here we summarize the physiological roles of the basepairing RNAs, examine their prevalence in bacteria and discuss unresolved questions regarding their mechanisms of action.