The function and retention/reprogramming of epigenetic marks during the germline-to-embryo transition is a key issue in developmental and cellular biology, with relevance to stem cell programming and trans-generational inheritance. In zebrafish, DNAme patterns are programmed in transcriptionally-quiescent early cleavage embryos; paternally-inherited patterns are maintained, whereas maternal patterns are reprogrammed to match the paternal pattern. Here we show that a 'placeholder' nucleosome, containing the histone H2A variant H2A.Z(FV) and H3K4me1, occupies virtually all regions lacking DNAme in both sperm and cleavage embryos â€“ residing at promoters encoding housekeeping and early embryonic transcription factors. Upon genome-wide transcriptional onset, genes with the Placeholder become either active H3K4me3-marked or silent H3K4me3/K27me3-marked (bivalent). Importantly, functional perturbation causing Placeholder loss confers DNAme acquisition, whereas acquisition/expansion of Placeholder confers DNA hypomethylation and improper gene activation. Thus, during transcriptionally quiescent stages (gamete-zygote-cleavage), an H2A.Z(FV)/H3K4me1-containing Placeholder nucleosome deters DNAme, poising parental genes for either gene-specific activation or facultative repression. Overall design: Transcript abundance was analyzed for zebrafish sperm, and cleavage stage embryos that were either wild type or mutant for the anp32e gene.