NMR (1H and 31P) and HPLC techniques were used to study the partitioning of phosphoramide mustard (PM) and its aziridinium ions among alkylation and P-N bond hydrolysis reactions as a function of the concentration and strength of added nucleophiles at 37 degrees C and pH 7.4. With water as the nucleophile, bisalkylation accounted for only 10-13% of the product distribution given by PM. The remainder of the products resulted from P-N bond hydrolysis reactions. With 50 mM thiosulfate or 55-110 mM glutathione (GSH), bisalkylation by a strong nucleophile increased to 55-76%. The rest of the PM was lost to either HOH alkylation or P-N bond hydrolysis reactions. Strong experimental and theoretical evidence was obtained to support the hypothesis that the P-N bond scission observed at neutral pH does not occur in the parent PM to produce nornitrogen mustard; rather it is an aziridinium ion derived from PM which undergoes P-N bond hydrolysis to give chloroethylaziridine. In every buffer studied (bis-Tris, lutidine, triethanolamine, and Tris), the decomposition of PM (with and without GSH) gave rise to 31P NMR signals which could not be attributed to products of HOH or GSH alkylation or P-N bond hydrolysis. The intensities of these unidentified signals were dependent on the concentration of buffer.