This phrase is similar to the one we learned yesterday: about to. However, while about to is widely used, on the verge of is a little less common, a little more formal and sounds somewhat dramatic.
Also, while you can use about to for just about anything, using on the verge of is a little tricky. For example, it's very common to say "It's about to rain," but you'll hardly ever hear, "It's on the verge of raining." On the other hand, "I'm so stressed; I'm on the verge of going insane," is pretty much comparable to "I'm so stressed; I'm about to go insane." Similarly, you can say "They're on the verge of starting a business," just as you can say "They're about to start a business."
The word verge means edge or border, so the idea of the phrase is you are at a border or edge before you let something happen or before you do something.
Because on the verge of is somewhat formal and dramatic, it's best to use it with big events such as quitting a job or losing your temper or giving up on English because it's difficult--something you will never do, right? On the other hand, on the verge of is hardly used with everyday events like washing the dishes or taking out the garbage or doing the laundry. For these activities it's better to use about to.
The best suggestion for mastering the use of on the verge of is to practice and to experiment. Be bold but careful while you are still learning to use the phrase. Ask your teachers or friends who are native speakers if you can say this phrase or that phrase. For example, can you say "on the verge of planning our wedding?" The answer is yes. What about "on the verge of going to the zoo?" Not really. It's better to say "about to go to the zoo."
Also remember that this phrase has to be followed by a noun, so use the gerund (ing or noun form of a verb) if you're following it with a verb. You can, therefore, say "Her job is so stressful, she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown," or "she's on the verge of having a nervous breakdown."
A: I just spoke to Tom. They're on the verge of buying a house.
B: Oh yeah? That's great! We should probably help them move.
A: Yeah. He said they could use our help. They're about to start packing.
B: We can also get the kids to help. They can carry the small things.
A: That's not a bad idea. Tom and Janet have a lot of stuff.
B: I know. So have you heard from Sam and Christy? I wonder how they're doing in Vegas.
A: I spoke to Sam this morning. He said they were on the verge of losing all their money.
B: Oh, that's so typical.
about to - getting ready to
somewhat - kind of, sort of
just about - almost
mastering - becoming an expert
a nervous breakdown - when someone loses emotional or psychological control
Ok. Don't worry if it's a little complicated. I will use on the verge of in future blogs so you can see more examples of it. In the meantime, do your part. Try it out. Sometimes you'll be right, and sometimes you'll be wrong. But eventually, you'll get it with a lot of practice.
Have fun and enjoy the weekend!