A series of phosphonic acid analogues of 2-benzylsuccinate were tested as inhibitors of carboxypeptidase A. The most potent of these, (2RS)-2-benzyl-3-phosphonopropionic acid, had a Ki of 0.22 +/- 0.05 microM, equipotent to (2RS)-2-benzylsuccinate and thus one of the most potent reversible inhibitors known for this enzyme. Lengthening by one methylene group to (2RS)-2-benzyl-4-phosphonobutyric acid increased the Ki to 370 +/- 60 microM. The monoethyl ester (2RS)-2-benzyl-3-(O-ethylphosphono)propionic acid was nearly as potent as (2RS)-2-benzyl-3-phosphonopropionic acid, with a Ki of 0.72 +/- 0.3 microM. The sulphur analogue of the monoethyl ester, 2-ambo-P-ambo-2-benzyl-3-(O-ethylthiophosphono)propionic acid, had a Ki of 2.1 +/- 0.6 microM, nearly as active as (2RS)-2-benzyl-3-(O-ethylphosphono)propionic acid. These phosphonic acids and esters could be considered to be multisubstrate inhibitors of carboxypeptidase A by virtue of their structural analogy with 2-benzylsuccinate. Alternatively, the tetrahedral hybridization at the phosphorus atom suggests that they could be mimicking a tetrahedral transition state for the enzyme-catalysed hydrolysis of substrate.