(Talking about a chimp): "In human age, he would have been on the brink of puberty."

I was told that this sentence is odd because 'be on the brink of' is usually used for something negative: suicides, disasters etc. Though this is most often the case, I don't think this is necessarily true. For example, you can say "on the brink of greatness".

In this particular sentence, would it be sound more natural, comparatively speaking, to use "on the threshold of puberty" instead?


Google Ngram Viewer makes it clear, I think: http://goo.gl/IqozD

  • 3
    But puberty is a disaster.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 4:58

2 Answers 2


According to macmillan:

  • the brink >> the point in time when something very bad or very good
  • is about to happen the brink >> the top of a very steep cliff

ex- Their marriage is failing. They're on the brink of divorce.

Look here for further clarification; it has already been asked.

  • what do you mean by 'it has been answered' ? and can you please give an example of 'brink' being used in a positive sense? Can't find one myself.
    – camelbrush
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 2:12
  • Here is the duplicate btw : english.stackexchange.com/questions/77143/…
    – camelbrush
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 2:17
  • 4
    @camelbrush: Can't find one? Look harder.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 9:40
  • @J.R. That actually is a very good and very common example. Thanks.
    – camelbrush
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 12:48

The Oxford Online Dict defines:

brink: a point at which something, typically something unwelcome, is about to happen; the verge: the country was on the brink of a constitutional crisis

So, I would agree with the general form of brink used to suggest something negative mostly. And as mentioned from other people below, a good example of verge being used in a positive sense is 'on the verge of winning'.

And for your sentence, you might want to use 'verge of puberty'.

I will not recommend using threshold as it sounds unnatural here.

  • Thank you for your lucid answer. 'verge' is the perfect choice. 'cusp' would be too archaic, I guess? I still do think 'brink' can be used in positive instances, few thought they might be. An example of which can be found at goo.gl/h27Ni
    – Soulz
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 3:56
  • typically is the operative word. If brink was only used to refer to something negative, the definition would read, "a point at which an unwelcome event is about to happen." I think whoever told the O.P. that the quoted use was "inappropriate" was being pedantic and overly restrictive.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 9:39
  • @J.R. Thank you for saying that. My thoughts exactly. Unfortunately I did not have a solid basis for my opinion at the time, which is what led me to post my question here.
    – Soulz
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 12:26
  • @Raghav "on the brink of puberty" is apparently not that unusual an expression, as you can see @ goo.gl/E2r92
    – Soulz
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 12:27
  • @C, verge is good; have to disagree about threshold, I see nothing un-natural about it Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 15:30

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