A quantitative evaluation of 20 second-generation carbohydrate force fields was carried out using ab initio and density functional methods. Geometry-optimized structures (B3LYP/6-31G(d)) and relative energies using augmented correlation consistent basis sets were calculated in gas phase for monosaccharide carbohydrate benchmark systems. Selected results are: (i) The interaction energy of the alpha-D-alucopyranose-H2O heterodimer is estimated to be 4.9 kcal/mol, using a composite method including terms at highly correlated (CCSD(T)) level. Most molecular mechanics force fields are in error in this respect; (ii) The E-3 envelope (south) pseudorotational conformer of methyl 5-deoxy-beta-D-xylofuranoside is 0.66 kcal/mol more stable than the E-3 envelope (north) conformer and the alpha-anomer of methyl D-glucopyranoside is 0.82 kcal/mol more stable than the beta-anomer; (iii) The relative energies of the (gg, gt and tg) rotamers of methyl alpha-D-glucopyranoside and methyl alpha-D-galactopyranoside are (0.13, 0.00, 0.15) and (0.64, 0.00, 0.77) kcal/mol. respectively. The results of the quantum mechanical calculations are compared with the results of calculations using the 20 second-generation carbohydrate force fields. No single force field is consistently better than the others for all the test cases. A statistical assessment of the performance of the force fields indicates that CHEAT(95), CFF, certain versions of Amber and of MM3 have the best overall performance, for these gas phase monosaccharide systems. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.