The in-vitro activities of the 14-membered macrolides erythromycin, dirithromycin, roxithromycin, clarithromycin, the 15-membered compound azithromycin and the 16-membered macrolides (16 MM) josamycin, spiramycin and midecamycin acetate (MOM) have been compared against staphylococci, enterococci and streptococci. Results have been analysed separately according to the sensitivity status of the tested strains to erythromycin, namely sensitive (S), inducibly resistant (IR) or constitutively resistant (CR). 14- and 15-membered macrolides were active only against S strains; the order of potency in vitro was clarithromycin = erythromycin greater than azithromycin = roxithromycin greater than dirithromycin. The 16 MM were slightly less active against S strains than were the 14- and 15-membered compounds, and inhibited most IR strains; MOM and josamycin were about twice as potent as spiramycin. IR and S Staphylococcus aureus strains were equally sensitive to 16 MM, while IR strains of coagulase-negative staphylococci were less sensitive than were S strains. All CR strains of S. aureus were resistant to 16 MM, as were most of the other CR strains. However, 5/21 CR coagulase-negative staphylococci and 2/20 CR enterococci tested were sensitive to 16 MM. The seven CR strains showing anomalous sensitivity to the 16 MM (five Staphylococcus haemolyticus and two enterococci) were only 'moderately resistant' to erythromycin (MIC 8-64 mg/L), while all the other CR strains were 'highly resistant' (MIC greater than 128 mg/L). These results indicate that it may be difficult to predict the sensitivity of Gram-positive cocci to 16 MM, and therefore individual sensitivity testing to specific compounds is essential.