Posted: Apr 28, 2016 1:21 am
by don't get me started
Begin and start

Split from here:

The original thread dealt with these concepts in a philosophical manner. Here I will try to flesh out some of the semantic aspects of these two words. I have often been asked by students what the difference between these two words is and have struggled to come up with a clear explanation. However, simply dismissing them as meaning the same thing is a poor way out. Usually, if there are two words, then there are two meanings. Even if the difference between them is hair-thin, there is usually some distinction between them.

Now, rather than giving up on the question (actually, it’s part of my job to answer these kinds of questions, not swat them away) I have tried to make sense of the words in a way that is accessible to students and avoids the pitfalls of obscurity, circularity or translation.

So, let’s begin.(Or start!)
If we take the word ‘start’ and consider its common opposite, then one possible candidate is ‘stop’. In small scale tests I have carried out with native speakers, ‘stop’ seems to be the most commonly perceived antonym. So, the cognitively salient dimension here seems to be the distinction between action and inaction.
By contrast, the commonly chosen opposite for ‘begin’ is ‘end’. Here the salient aspect seems to be process and completion, (i.e. telic).
So, to use the word ‘start’ seems to highlight the transition from a state of inaction to a state of action. ‘He started walking’ shows that whatever he was doing before (whether sitting or standing or whatever…) is no longer the case, and the action of walking is now the case. It is the transition from one condition or state or activity to another, this second activity being the main focus of the word. What occurs afterwards is made explicit, but what was occurring before the transition occurred is not made explicit, but may be inferred.
By contrast the word ‘begin’ downplays or dissattends to the transition and what was occurring before. It seems to pay attention to the action itself ('He began walking' is about a state of walking being the case) and state that from this point onwards such and such an action was taking place, or such and such a state existed, and possibly that that action is moving towards some goal or endpoint.
So, to sum up, it seems to me that ‘start’ is transition focused and ‘begin’ is process focused.

This is what I have come up with so far. If anyone else can shed further light on the issue, I’d be very interested.