Macrolide and ketolide antibiotics inhibit protein synthesis on the bacterial ribosome. Resistance to these antibiotics is conferred by dimethylation at 23S rRNA nucleotide A2058 within the ribosomal binding site. This form of resistance is encoded by erm dimethyltransferase genes, and is found in many pathogenic bacteria. Clinical isolates of Streptococcus pneumoniae with constitutive erm(B) and Streptococcus pyogenes with constitutive erm(A) subtype (TR) are resistant to macrolides, but remain susceptible to ketolides such as telithromycin. Paradoxically, some strains of S. pyogenes that possess an identical erm(B) gene are clinically resistant to ketolides as well as macrolides. Here we explore the molecular basis for the differences in these streptococcal strains using mass spectrometry to determine the methylation status of their rRNAs. We find a correlation between the levels of A2058-dimethylation and ketolide resistance, and dimethylation is greatest in S. pyogenes strains expressing erm(B). In constitutive erm strains that are ketolide-sensitive, appreciable proportions of the rRNA remain monomethylated. Incubation of these strains with subinhibitory amounts of the macrolide erythromycin increases the proportion of dimethylated A2058 (in a manner comparable with inducible erm strains) and reduces ketolide susceptibility. The designation 'constitutive' should thus be applied with some reservation for most streptococcal erm strains. One strain worthy of the constitutive designation is S. pyogenes isolate KuoR21, which has lost part of the regulatory region upstream of erm(B). In S. pyogenes KuoR21, nucleotide A2058 is fully dimethylated under all growth conditions, and this strain displays the highest resistance to telithromycin (MIC > 64 microg ml-1).