A stabilized, nodally integrated linear tetrahedral is formulated and analysed. It is well known that linear tetrahedral elements perform poorly in problems with plasticity, nearly incompressible materials, and acute bending. For a variety of reasons, low-order tetrahedral elements are preferable to quadratic tetrahedral elements; particularly for nonlinear problems. But the severe locking problems of tetrahedrals have forced analysts to employ hexahedral formulations for most nonlinear problems. On the other hand, automatic mesh generation is often not feasible for building many 3D hexahedral meshes. A stabilized, nodally integrated linear tetrahedral is developed and shown to perform very well in problems with plasticity, nearly incompressible materials and acute bending. The formulation is analytically and numerically shown to be stable and optimally convergent for the compressible case provided sufficient smoothness of the exact solution u ∈ C2 ∩ (H1)3. Future work may extend the formulation to the incompressible regime and relax the regularity requirements; nonetheless, the results demonstrate that the method is not susceptible to locking and performs quite well in several standard linear and nonlinear benchmarks. Published in 2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.