A zwitterionic polyphosphoester (zPPE), specifically l-cysteine-functionalized poly(but-3-yn-1-yloxy)-2-oxo-1,3,2-dioxaphospholane (zPBYP), has been developed as a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) alternative coating material for gold nanoparticles (AuNPs), the most extensively investigated metal nanoparticulate platform toward molecular imaging, photothermal therapy, and drug delivery applications. Thiol-yne conjugation of cysteine transformed an initial azido-terminated and alkynyl-functionalized PBYP homopolymer into zPBYP, offering hydrolytic degradability, biocompatibility, and versatile reactive moieties for installation of a range of functional groups. Despite minor degradation during purification, zPPEs were able to stabilize AuNPs presumably through multivalent interactions between combinations of the side chain zwitterions (thioether and phosphoester groups of the zPPEs with the AuNPs). 31P NMR studies in D2O revealed ca. 20% hydrolysis of the phosphoester moieties of the repeat units had occurred during the workup and purification by aqueous dialysis at pH 3 over ca. 1 d, as observed by the 31P signal of the phosphotriesters resonating at ca. -0.5 to -1.7 shifting downfield to ca. 1.1 to -0.4 ppm, attributed to transformation to phosphates. Further hydrolysis of side chain and backbone units proceeded to an extent of ca. 75% over the next 2 d in nanopure water (pH 5-6). The NMR degradation results were consistent with the broadening and red-shift of the surface plasmon resonance (SPR) observed by UV-vis spectroscopy of the zPPE-coated AuNPs in water over time. All AuNP formulations in this study, including those with citrate, PEG, and zPPE coatings, exhibited negligible immunotoxicity, as determined by cytokine overexpression in the presence of the nanostructures relative to those in cell culture medium. Notably, the zPPE-coated AuNPs displayed superior antifouling properties, as assessed by the extent of cytokine adsorption relative to both the PEGylated and citrate-coated AuNPs. Taken together, the physicochemical and biological evaluations of zPPE-coated AuNPs in conjunction with PEGylated and citrate-coated analogues indicate the promise of zPPEs as favorable alternatives to PEG coatings, with negligible immunotoxicity, good antifouling performance, and versatile reactive groups that enable the preparation of highly tailored nanomaterials for diverse applications.