The quadrupole moment of acetylene has been studied at the multiconfiguration self-consistent field (MCSCF) and multireference single and double configuration interaction (MRSDCI) level of theory. At the MCSCF level the π-CI complete active space SCF (CASSCF) and the valence-CI CASSCF were employed. The subsequent MRSDCI calculations were continued until the reference space included all configuration state functions (CSFs) of the MCSCF wave function with a coefficient larger than 0.01 [MRSDCI(0.01)]. The higher level basis sets in this study were all based on van Duijneveldt's C(13s 8p) and H(6s) and extensions of that basis set. The study shows in a consistent way that both the one- and n-particle spaces are saturated at the highest level of theory. The study has revealed that in addition to the well known increase of the quadrupole moment due to the inclusion of polarizing functions in the basis (typically 0.20 a.u.), the inclusion of electronic correlation in the model wave function as well as vibrational corrections will decrease the quadrupole moment significantly more, -0.66, -0.49, and -0.36 a.u., for the correlation correction and zero-point correction for HCCH and DCCD, respectively. The most accurate computations predict the quadrupole moment of HCCH, including zero-point correction, to be 4.29 ± 0.12 a.u., which discriminates the experimental estimates of 4.03 ± 0.30, 4.28 ± 0.30, and 4.57 ± 0.30 a.u. (the first being the favored value). The quadrupole moment of DCCD is computed to 4.42 + 0.10 a.u. In the study it was observed that in contradiction to previous experiences the use of the model equilibrium geometries rather than the experimental geometry gives a smoother convergence as the level of theory is increased. The effects of basis set quality and electron correlation on the quadrupole moment are studied in detail. These effects are analyzed with reference to the redistribution of the electronic charge. © 1991 American Institute of Physics.