Yeast DNA polymerases I and III have been well characterized physically, biochemically, genetically and immunologically. DNA polymerase II is present in very small amounts, and only partially purified preparations have been available for characterization, making comparison with DNA polymerases I and III difficult. Recently, we have shown that DNA polymerases II and III are genetically distinct (Sitney et al., 1989). In this work, we show that polymerase II is also genetically distinct from polymerase I, since polymerase II can be purified in equal amounts from wild-type and mutant strains completely lacking DNA polymerase I activity. Thus, yeast contains three major nuclear DNA polymerases. The core catalytic subunit of DNA polymerase II was purified to near homogeneity using a reconstitution assay. Two factors that stimulate the core polymerase were identified and used to monitor activity during purification and analysis. The predominant species of the most highly purified preparation of polymerase II is 132,000 Da. However, polymerase activity gels suggest that the 132,000-Da form of DNA polymerase II is probably an active proteolytic fragment derived from a 170,000-Da protein. The highly purified polymerase fractions contain a 3'----5'-exonuclease activity that purifies at a constant ratio with polymerase during the final two purification steps. However, DNA polymerase II does not copurify with a DNA primase activity.