Addition of a small amount of ethylene glycol oligomers (OEG), with the number of repeat units y = 2-4, in an aqueous solution leads to the contraction of both linear and cross-linked poly(acrylamide-co-acrylic acid) chains. The results present clear evidence for the screening Effect of OEG on the ionic groups of the polymer chains. Measurements indicate that the pre-swollen poly(acrylamide-co-acrylic acid) gels immersed in aqueous OEG solutions are at equilibrium. However, as the molecular weight of OEG increases, these gels cannot attain their equilibrium swelling ratio due to the appearance of non-equilibrium structures. The stability of these structures increases as the initial swelling degree of the gels increases. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd.