Elastic and anelastic behaviour of single crystal and ceramic samples of Pb(Mg 1/3Nb 2/3)O 3 has been investigated at frequencies of 0.11.2MHz through the temperature interval 10800K by resonant ultrasound spectroscopy (RUS). Comparison with data from the literature shows that softening of the shear modulus between the Burns temperature and the freezing interval is independent of frequency. The softening is attributed to coupling between acoustic modes and the relaxation mode(s) responsible for central peaks in Raman and neutron scattering spectra below the Burns temperature, and can be described with VogelFulcher parameters. Shear elastic compliance and dielectric permittivity show similar patterns of temperature dependence through the freezing interval, demonstrating strong coupling between ferroelectric polarization and strain such that the response to applied stress is more or less the same as the response to an applied electric field, with a frequency dependence consistent with VogelFulcher-like freezing in both cases. Differences in detail show, however, that shearing induces flipping between different twin orientations, in comparison with the influence of an electric field, which induces 180°flipping: the activation energy barrier for the former appears to be higher than for the latter. Below the freezing interval, the anelastic loss also has a similar pattern of evolution to the dielectric loss, signifying again that essentially the same mechanism is involved in the freezing process. Overall softening at low temperatures is attributed to the contributions of strain relaxations due to coupling with the local ferroelectric order parameter and of coupling between acoustic modes and continuing relaxational modes of the polar nanostructure. Dissipation is attributed to movement of boundaries between PNRs or between correlated clusters of PNRs. Overall, strain coupling is fundamental to the development of the characteristic strain, dielectric and elastic properties of relaxors. © 2012 IOP Publishing Ltd.