Are 'begin' and 'start' interchangeable?

Both "This is a new start"
and "This is a new beginning" work, right?

Then during games, they say "Let's start", but I never heard "Let's begin". So is there supposed to be a difference?

And then one guy said this "They could not begin to start a conversation". What is this supposed to mean? Is it correct?

  • Possible duplicate-ish: english.stackexchange.com/q/21043/42179
    – Keep these mind
    Aug 19, 2016 at 17:01
  • @Keepthesemind : Not duplicate. I read that thread before posting this. I have different queries about those two words than the poster you mentioned. The body of this post is quite different.
    – user118494
    Aug 19, 2016 at 17:03
  • 2
    It is a duplicate, but you have asked two questions. The difference between begin and start is explained in the other question (and if you have seen it, you should have mentioned that and explained what was missing from its answers which made a new question necessary). The phrase "begin to start" is not mentioned there. That does make for an interesting question. Aug 19, 2016 at 19:48

3 Answers 3


Begin and start have meanings that overlap (and also overlap with commence, which is more formal). In many sentences there is little difference: "The sale (starts/begins/commences) on Monday".

There are some uses for which only start is used. Start can be used as noun ("the start of the race), and start has an older meaning which is "to suddenly move" For example "John started when the car outside backfired" (= he was startled). Also When you set something in motion you start it. "Start the engine", or figuratively "Start a business".

To "start a conversation" is to (metaphorically) set it in motion. Also there is an idiomatic pattern "I couldn't begin to (do something)", which means "I couldn't (do something) at all. Put these together and you get "I couldn't begin to start a conversation" = "I couldn't start a conversation at all"


They're interchangeable in very many (most?) but not absolutely all contexts.

"Let's begin" is perfectly correct (out of context).

One fairly clear difference would be when we say that a car "starts", i.e. the engine starts (we wouldn't say it "begins", unless we're saying that it "begins [to make a strange noise]").

Another example would be "Don't get me started!" or "Let's get started!", where "begin" just wouldn't work. But maybe this is the same use as the car starting.


Begin and start can both be used with the same meaning. We generally prefer begin when we are using a more formal style. But there are cases where begin is not possible:

  1. 'start a journey'
  2. 'start working' (for machines)
  3. 'make [something] start'

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