The gaseous plant hormone ethylene modulates many internal processes and growth responses to environmental stimuli. Ethylene has long been recognized as a growth inhibitor, but evidence is accumulating that ethylene can also promote growth. Therefore, the concept of ethylene as a general growth inhibitor needs reconsideration: a close examination of recent literature can help to understand the two contrasting faces of growth control by ethylene. Here, we propose a hypothesis that integrates growth inhibition and growth stimulation into one biphasic ethylene response model. Focusing on photosynthesis and cell expansion, we highlight several mechanisms through which ethylene affects plant growth, thereby interacting with various other signal transduction routes.