People tell me this phrase is only used in the context of wine. Even though my lack of knowledge of other phrases that are built similarly suggests these people must be right, my curiosity gets the better of me. After all, I can't claim to know of all the phrases out there.

Are there, though? Something along the lines of:

  • this pizza is eating nicely
  • this gum is chewing nicely

or even with another beverage:

  • this juice/whiskey is drinking nicely
  • 1
    The middle construction.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 14:11
  • Sometimes called the medio-passive. Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 14:43
  • 1
    I have never heard this particular phrasing before. To my ears, sounds like an Indianism ('convert present simple to present continuous': "The wine is drinking nicely" < "The wine drinks nicely") of a strange personification/inversion/something "The wine drinks well" < "I drank this wine and it was good" < "The wine tastes good". Whatever the provenance, it sounds really 'wrong' in AmE; if it i used commonly by a particularly subculture (wine-tasting) it would sound very pretentious in any variation outside of that subculture. I recommend never using it.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 15:03
  • possible duplicate of "The ticket is printing" vs "...is being printed"
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 15:46
  • 1
    @Mitch No, it is plenty standard. Maybe you just need to spend more time with the brie&chablis crowd.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 15:49

4 Answers 4


Others have rightly called this the middle construction or the medio-passive. When a verb allows the object in a transitive clause to become the subject in an intransitive clause it is said to be an ergative verb. Drink is such a verb. We can say They are drinking the wine (transitive verb, wine is object), but we can also say The wine is drinking well now (intransitive verb, wine is subject). The OED’s earliest record of of drink used intransitively in this way is from 1617: The wine . . . drunke too flat.


Here's an article on wine that uses this construction. There are a couple of others I found searching "drinking nicely". I took a couple of wine classes 30 years ago and never heard this expression, but it seems to have some currency these days. Google Ngrams shows no hits for that expression. I've never read it or heard before tonight. Interesting.


Late at night (actually wee small hours). End of year.
2012's humour, or cynicism, allotments not yet quite expended. So ...

The art of wine appreciation tends to be uncomfortably close to the realms of the advanced applications of oxygen free copper cables in audiophile applications, the mystical and near magical ability of vaccuum tube amplifiers to process music in manners as yet not remotely matched by solid-state wannabees, the use of magnets to repair/heal/rejuvenate/... about anything, most uses of crystals outside hard Physics, and the large majority of social sciences.

If you do come across anything in some other realm that is "xxxing nicely" then you should probably shun it, too, like the plague.

All that said, the article cited by Bill Franke does seem to be well written, humorous in a not too overdone way and demonstrates an impressive degree of knowledge of and involvement with something which is as much an art form as a scientific endeavor. Odds are that any other usages you do find would fall in similar areas where people have taken relatively prosaic ( eg in this case oxidation products of fermented fruits) and added layers of mystique which may or may not be amenable to attempts at correlation with any known reality.

So, crystals might, perhaps, be resonating nicely.
OFC cables used in conjuction with suitable audio equipment may be harmonizing, perhaps resonating or ....?
Magnets? Well! The oppotunities are endless.

But, no, not as I recall :-).


There is an extensive article on ergative verbs by the Collins Cobuild group at https://arts-ccr-002.bham.ac.uk/ccr/patgram/ch07.html , but I think they miss the verb drink and classmates. I take this as indicating that the middle usage (of drink) was far less common when the Cobuild Grammar was written, and that related verbs such as eat, chew were / are? not commonly used in such intransitive constructions either. Perhaps the Cobuild 'group 9.3' is closest:

9.3 The `fish' group In the pattern V adv, these verbs indicate that a place used for a sport allows the sport to be enjoyable. In the pattern V n, they indicate that someone takes part in that sport at that place.

The beach is a south-west-facing venue that fishes well when there is a strong breeze blowing directly onto the beach. Chatting to other anglers who fish the water can also be a great help. The cross-country course rode well, although the water jump caused problems. Ryan rode the 13-fence show-jumping course at Barcelona as if he were David Broome.

...fish, ride... [end of quote]

I have come across a differentiation between middle and ergative usages, but the terminology in the article found following RegDwight's link (to "An Introduction to English Syntax") seems better, as shown in brackets below:

Delia melted the chocolate in the bowl

The chocolate melted almost at once. (episodic interpretation)

Chocolate melts at 110 degrees F. (typical middle [usage having] to do with permanent properties of entities)

(examples my own)

I have seen the term 'ergative usage' restricted to the episodic case and 'middle usage' to the permanent-property usage.

  • That's an impressive resource, new to me. Another ergative, perhaps falling out of favour, is build. 'The office block now building in the centre of the town . . .' Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 18:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.