1. Outer hair cells from the cochlea of the guinea-pig were isolated and their motile properties studied in short-term culture by the whole-cell variant of the patch recording technique. 2. Cells elongated and shortened when subjected to voltage steps. Cells from both high- and low-frequency regions of the cochlea responded with an elongation when hyperpolarized and a shortening when depolarized. The longitudinal motion of the cell was measured by a differential photosensor capable of responding to motion frequencies 0-40 kHz. 3. Under voltage clamp the length change of the cell was graded with command voltage over a range +/- 2 microns (approximately 4% of the length) for cells from the apical turns of the cochlea. The mean sensitivity of the movement was 2.11 nm/pA injected current, or 19.8 nm/mV membrane polarization. 4. The kinetics of the cell length change during a voltage step were measured. Stimulated at their basal end, cells from the apical (low-frequency) cochlear turns responded with a latency of between 120 and 255 microseconds. The cells thereafter elongated exponentially by a process which could be characterized by three time constants, one with value 240 microseconds, and a second in the range 1.3-2.8 ms. A third time constant with a value 20-40 ms characterized a slower component which may represent osmotic changes. 5. Consistent with the linearity shown to voltage steps, sinusoidal stimulation of the cell generated movements which could be measured at frequencies above 1 kHz. The phase of the movement relative to the stimulus continued to grow with frequency, suggesting the presence of an absolute delay in the response of about 200 microseconds. 6. The electrically stimulated movements were insensitive to the ionic composition of the cell, manipulated by dialysis from the patch pipette. The responses occurred when the major cation was K+ or Na+ in the pipette. Loading the cell with ATP-free solutions or calcium buffers did not inhibit the response. 7. It is concluded that interaction between actin and myosin, although present in the cell, is unlikely to account for the cell motility. Instead, it is proposed that outer hair cell motility is associated with structures in the cell cortex. The implications for cochlear mechanics of such force generation in outer hair cells are discussed.