Aminoacyl-transfer RNA (tRNA) synthetases (RS) are essential components of the cellular translation machinery and can be exploited for antibiotic discovery. Because cells have many different RS, usually one for each amino acid, identification of the specific enzyme targeted by a new natural or synthetic inhibitor can be cumbersome. We describe the use of the primer extension technique in conjunction with specifically designed synthetic genes to identify the RS targeted by an inhibitor. Suppression of a synthetase activity reduces the amount of the cognate aminoacyl-tRNA in a cell-free translation system resulting in arrest of translation when the corresponding codon enters the decoding center of the ribosome. The utility of the technique is demonstrated by identifying a switch in target specificity of some synthetic inhibitors of threonyl-tRNA synthetase.