Verge, brink

What’s the difference between being on the verge of something, and being on the brink? Is one of them more positive than the other? What synonyms can you use instead? Here’s the lowdown.

On the verge

A verge is an edge, border, or limit (it can be used literally, as in the grass verge on each side of a road).

To be on the verge of something means to be very close to doing or experiencing something.

It is used either + noun, or + -ing (e.g. ‘on the verge of resigning’). A person can also be driven to the verge of despair, or an animal species driven to the verge of extinction.

This makes it sound as if on the verge is always something negative, and indeed, the dictionary lists collapse, tears, death, disaster, and war as terms that go well with on the verge of, but this is not the case. You will also see examples like:

  • on the verge of a significant breakthrough
  • on the verge of becoming champions
  • on the verge of success

When on the verge is used with a noun, you can often use on the edge of as a synonym (e.g. He was on the edge of tears). Occasionally you can use threshold (for example: on the threshold of a major breakthrough).

By the way, you can also use verge as a verb: to verge on means ‘to be very close to’, ‘to border on’. For example:

His comment verges on slander (= comes very close to being slanderous).

Here are some examples from the Press:

  • Haiti on verge of collapse, NGOs warn
  • Swedish rightwing on verge of narrow election win
  • Liz Truss on verge of major U-turn on real-terms benefits cut
  • Why Italy is on verge of electing its first far-right leader since…
  • Germany’s Die Linke on verge of split over sanctions on Russia

On the brink

The brink, used literally, is the edge of a cliff. We talk about pulling someone back from the brink (for example, if you got a drug addict into rehab and they made a good recovery).

Metaphorically, the brink refers to a critical point, the point where a different, and usually dangerous, situation, is about to begin.

While you may read examples like We are on the brink of a major new discovery, The company is poised on the brink of success, or They are on the brink of making a breakthrough, my feeling is that most of the time, ‘brink’ is used in a negative sense:

  • on the brink of famine
  • on the brink of ruin
  • on the brink of collapse
  • on the brink of civil war
  • on the brink of extinction
  • on the brink of bankruptcy
  • on the brink of disaster

Like verge, on the brink is used + noun or + -ing (e.g. The situation is on the brink of descending into chaos).

Two useful phrases for you: teetering on the brink (e.g. The company is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy). Here you can clearly see the meaning of ‘cliff-edge’, because teetering means you’re about to fall off, i.e. things are about to go pear-shaped.

If something good is about to happen, rather than a disaster, you would use poised: They are poised on the brink of success.

Here are some examples from the Press:

  • World on brink of five ‘disastrous’ climate tipping points
  • Liz Truss’s government on the brink after Suella Braverman’s parting shot
  • Unions on brink of ‘synchronised’ strikes, says RMT’s Mick Lynch
  • How Liz Truss plunged the UK to the brink of recession
  • Back from the brink: how bison, bears and beavers returned to the wild
  • Polls put Lula on brink of comeback victory over Bolsonaro
  • The online clothing retailer Missguided is teetering on the brink of collapse after being issued a winding-up petition by clothing suppliers
  • Europe on the brink: the states battling to stave off recession


Do you know the word brinkmanship? In politics, it means trying to get what you want by saying that if you don’t get it, you’ll do something dangerous.

The collocation engaging in brinkmanship is often used to describe what is basically a game of chicken between two groups or politicians!

Here’s an example from the papers:

“Dominic Raab accuses EU of ‘brinkmanship‘ over vaccine supply threat”


You may have encountered on the cusp of and wondered if the meaning was the same.

The cusp is the dividing line between two different things.

For example, I could say that my daughter is on the cusp of adulthood. Cusp is often used to mark a transition between two states.

By the way, it also has a meaning in astrology: if you are ‘on the cusp of Leo and Virgo’, this means you were born within 3 days before or after the change of astrological signs.

Here are some examples from the Press:

  • Techies think we’re on the cusp of a virtual world called the Metaverse
  • Social care is on the cusp of a crisis – The Guardian
  • Congress is on the cusp of passing the most pivotal bill in years
  • Owners on cusp of selling Selfridges to Thai group for £4bn
  • IMF warns world economy may soon be on the cusp of recession


Here are some synonyms for the idea of being on the verge or on the brink of something:

  • ready to…
  • about to…
  • on the point of…
  • imminent
  • impending
  • inescapable
  • inevitable

There are other options: you could use words like looming or on the horizon, but they seem more distant in time.

In summary

Frankly, in many contexts, on the verge and on the brink can be used interchangeably.

If there is a difference to be found, it is that on the brink of is more negative.

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