By Neus Ferrando Gilabert BSc, MSc (embryologist) and José Muñoz Ramírez BSc, MSc, PhD (senior clinical embryologist).
Last Update: 03/31/2014

With the exception of artificial insemination, fertilisation occurs outside the female body in most assisted reproductive techniques and later embryo transfer is performed.

For selective embryo transfer, specialists rely on a series of criteria which help determining the quality of the embryos.

While embryos are being cultured, their quality is microscopically assessed. Embryo quality assessment implies analysing both embryo morphology and embryonic development.

The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.

Understanding embryo grading

Grade I

Cells or blastomeres are of equal size and no fragmentation is seen. Their texture is uniform and they are light-coloured. There is no evidence of multinuclear blastomeres (more than one nucleus per cell).

Grade I

Grade II

Minor fragmentation only (less than 15% of the embryo) and/or cells are mostly of equal size.

Grade II

Grade III

The fragmentation rate is 10-40% of the embryo. Blastomeres are of unequal size and/or their surface is less smooth.

Grade III

Grade IV

The fragmentation rate is higher than 40%. Cells are now dark-coloured and less smooth.

Grade IV

Grade V

Fragmentation is heavy and the embryo is dark-coloured.

Grade V

Factors examined

As regards embryo morphology, the following aspects are taken into account: the zona pellucida thickness, the cytoplasmic vacuoles, the adhesion between blastomeres and the presence of a cytoplasmic filament.

If the zona pellucida is especially thick, embryo transfer can be performed previously to the assisted zona hatching (AZH) technique, a.k.a. assisted hatching (AH). AZH may facilitate the inner cell mass to break through the zona pellucida.

Zona pellucida

Embryonic development is another marker for embryo quality assessment.

This criterion can be summarised as follows: the greatest number of cells, the greater probability of implantation into the maternal uterus, always respecting the maximum of 4 cells two days after fertilisation and 8 cells for 3-day embryos.

Embryos with a cleavage faster than normal are considered as poor quality embryos, since they are more likely to develop a genetic alteration, usually aneuploidy.


Grade I and grade II embryos are considered good quality embryos.

Conversely, grade III embryos are considered as moderate quality embryos, although there are still chances for pregnancy. Embryo quality is related to embryonic development and embryo–endometrial linkage capacity. However, grade III embryos are not necessarily associated with a genetic alteration. Grade IV embryos present a poorer prognosis.

Grade V embryos are not transferred to the maternal uterus. They are cultured while their progress is monitored. Nevertheless, practically overall majority of grade V embryos do not continue its development. Their poor development may indicate that they are non-viable.

FAQs from users

Can you pregnant with C and D scored embryos?

By José Muñoz Ramírez BSc, MSc, PhD (senior clinical embryologist).

Yes, although the chances are quite low.

When we classify embryos according to their quality at the lab, we do so by evaluating their implantation potential, that is, trying to “guess” which ones have greater chances for attaching tot he uterus, and which don’t. C and D scored embryos are embryos of moderate-to-low quality, which means that a C or D scored embryo has a reduced chance of implantation if compared to a B or A scored embryo. In any case, however, whenever we select an embryo for the transfer, it’s because it has been observed that its implantation potential is a good one.

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Authors and contributors

 Neus Ferrando Gilabert
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Postgraduate Course in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH). Experience managing Embryology and Andrology Labs at Centro Médico Manzanera (Logroño, Spain). More information
 José Muñoz Ramírez
BSc, MSc, PhD
Senior Clinical Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Malaga. Master's Degree in Genetics by the University of Alcalá, and Master's Degree in Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia. He works as a clinical embryologist at Clínica Tambre (Madrid, Spain), in addition to being an Associate Professor at the University of Murcia. More information
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One comment

    1. Kathryn

      I recently had a DE-IVF cycle in the Czech Republic. We ended up with two Grade 1 embryos, and one Grade 3 embryo. We transferred one of the Grade 1 embryos, and froze the other two. What do you think our chances are with the Grade 3? We will likely transfer both frozen embryos when we go back.