We studied the dependence of the rate of short deletions and insertions on their contexts using the data on mutations within coding exons at 19 human loci that cause mendelian diseases. We confirm that periodic sequences consisting of three to five or more nucleotides are mutagenic. Mutability of sequences with strongly biased nucleotide composition is also elevated, even when mutations within homonucleotide runs longer than three nucleotides are ignored. In contrast, no elevated mutation rates have been detected for imperfect direct or inverted repeats. Among known candidate contexts, the indel context GTAAGT and regions with purine-pyrimidine imbalance between the two DNA strands are mutagenic in our sample, and many others are not mutagenic. Data on mutation hot spots suggest two novel contexts that increase the deletion rate. Comprehensive analysis of mutability of all possible contexts of lengths four, six, and eight indicates a substantially elevated deletion rate within YYYTG and similar sequences, which is one of the two contexts revealed by the hot spots. Possible contexts that increase the insertion rate (AT(A/C)(A/C)GCC and TACCRC) and decrease deletion (TATCGC) or insertion (GCGG) rates have also been identified. Two-thirds of deletions remove a repeat, and over 80% of insertions create a repeat, i.e., they are duplications. Hum Mutat 23:177–185, 2004. Published 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.