Using 31P nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, we monitor the competition between tri- n-butylphosphine (Bu3P) and various amine and phosphine ligands for the surface of chloride terminated CdSe nanocrystals. Distinct 31P NMR signals for free and bound phosphine ligands allow the surface ligand coverage to be measured in phosphine solution. Ligands with a small steric profile achieve higher surface coverages (Bu3P = 0.5 nm-2, Me2P- n-octyl = 2.0 nm-2, NH2Bu = >3 nm-2) and have greater relative binding affinity for the nanocrystal (binding affinity: Me3P > Me2P- n-octyl ∼ Me2P- n-octadecyl > Et3P > Bu3P). Among phosphines, only Bu3P and Me2P- n-octyl support a colloidal dispersion, allowing a relative surface binding affinity ( Krel) to be estimated in that case ( Krel = 3.1). The affinity of the amine ligands is measured by the extent to which they displace Bu3P from the nanocrystals ( Krel: H2NBu ∼ N- n-butylimidazole > 4-ethylpyridine > Bu3P ∼ HNBu2 > Me2NBu > Bu3N). The affinity for the CdSe surface is greatest among soft, basic donors and depends on the number of each ligand that bind. Sterically unencumbered ligands such as imidazole, pyridine, and n-alkylamines can therefore outcompete stronger donors such as alkylphosphines. The influence of repulsive interactions between ligands on the binding affinity is a consequence of the high atom density of binary semiconductor surfaces. The observed behavior is distinct from the self-assembly of straight-chain surfactants on gold and silver where the ligands are commensurate with the underlying lattice and attractive interactions between aliphatic chains strengthen the binding.