Active-site serine D,D-transpeptidases belonging to the penicillin-binding protein family (PBPs) have been considered for a long time as essential for peptidoglycan cross-linking in all bacteria. However, bypass of the PBPs by an L,D-transpeptidase (Ldtfm) conveys high-level resistance to β-lactams of the penam class in Enterococcus faecium with a minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) of ampicillin >2,000 µg/ml. Unexpectedly, Ldtfm does not confer resistance to β-lactams of the carbapenem class (imipenem MIC = 0.5 µg/ml) whereas cephems display residual activity (ceftriaxone MIC = 128 µg/ml). Mass spectrometry, fluorescence kinetics, and NMR chemical shift perturbation experiments were performed to explore the basis for this specificity and identify β-lactam features that are critical for efficient L,D-transpeptidase inactivation. We show that imipenem, ceftriaxone, and ampicillin acylate Ldtfm by formation of a thioester bond between the active-site cysteine and the β-lactam-ring carbonyl. However, slow acylation and slow acylenzyme hydrolysis resulted in partial Ldtfm inactivation by ampicillin and ceftriaxone. For ampicillin, Ldtfm acylation was followed by rupture of the C5–C6 bond of the β-lactam ring and formation of a secondary acylenzyme prone to hydrolysis. The saturable step of the catalytic cycle was the reversible formation of a tetrahedral intermediate (oxyanion) without significant accumulation of a non-covalent complex. In agreement, a derivative of Ldtfm blocked in acylation bound ertapenem (a carbapenem), ceftriaxone, and ampicillin with similar low affinities. Thus, oxyanion and acylenzyme stabilization are both critical for rapid L,D-transpeptidase inactivation and antibacterial activity. These results pave the way for optimization of the β-lactam scaffold for L,D-transpeptidase-inactivation.