Linoleic acid, but not stearic acid, inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus NCTC 8325. Growth inhibition was associated with an increase in the permeability of the bacterial membrane. The presence of a plasmid conferring resistance to penicillin (PC plasmid, e.g. pI258blaI-) increased the growth inhibitory and membrane permeability effects of linoleic acid. Under growth inhibitory conditions, linoleic acid was incorporated into the lipid of both PC plasmid-containing and PC plasmid-negative bacteria and there was little difference between these cultures in the uptake or fate of linoleic acid. Experiments using a glycerol auxotroph of S. aureus suggested that free linoleic acid, rather than lipid containing this acid, inhibits growth. Linoleic acid probably inhibits growth by increasing the permeability of the bacterial membrane as a result of its surfactant action, and the presence of the PC plasmid increases these effects.