Metal-oxide-semiconductor capacitors made of the nanocrystalline cadmium selenide nc-CdSe embedded Zr-doped HfO2 high-k stack on the p-type silicon wafer have been fabricated and studied for their charge trapping, detrapping, and retention characteristics. Both holes and electrons can be trapped to the nanocrystal-embedded dielectric stack depending on the polarity of the applied gate voltage. With the same magnitude of applied gate voltage, the sample can trap more holes than electrons. A small amount of holes are loosely trapped at the nc-CdSe/high-k interface and the remaining holes are strongly trapped to the bulk nanocrystalline CdSe site. Charges trapped to the nanocrystals caused the Coulomb blockade effect in the leakage current vs. voltage curve, which is not observed in the control sample. The addition of the nanocrystals to the dielectric film changed the defect density and the physical thickness, which are reflected on the leakage current and the breakdown voltage. More than half of the originally trapped holes can be retained in the embedded nanocrystals for more than 10 yr. The nanocrystalline CdSe embedded high-k stack is a useful gate dielectric for this nonvolatile memory device. © 2014 AIP Publishing LLC.