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Acupuncture appeared in the West in the beginning of 20th century.

Or

Acupuncture appeared in the West at the beginning of 20th century.

Which is correct?

To me, at the beginning sounds like in 1901, or in 1915. In the beginning seems to have more range. Correct me if I’m wrong.

4 Answers 4

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The standard grammar here is pretty clear:

  • years and in:
    He began his job in 2005.
    They began the public works projects in the 1930s.
    She was born in 2000.

  • at the beginning of a period of time (century, week, month, period, era, day etc.)

At the beginning of the 20 st century, there were few [x].
At the beginning of the year, he was in Asia.
At the beginning of the week, we were not working on this.

That is the basic idiomatic usage for these contexts.

"in the beginning" is another idiom with another meaning.

  • We have had a very long friendship. In the beginning [of the friendship], we always played tennis. Then later, we started scuba diving on vacation in Florida.

  • The dog was rescued by my father on a rainy evening. In the beginning [of the dog's being rescued], the whole family adored the mutt and we still do.

  • God Gave Names to All the Animals in the Beginning [of the world] is not one of Bob Dylan's best songs.

in the beginning usually refers to some relationship or thing that involves a process but not to a specific period of time like week, month, day, century, decade, etc.

We wouldn't say: In the beginning of the week, I was tired. We might very well say: In the beginning of the book [implied, when you first start reading it], the characters were very funny.

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You are correct. "At" is more specific, likely close to 1901. In the USA, 1900 is generally considered the start of the 20th Century, even though that is incorrect. We generally speak of the year 2000 as the first year of the new millennium and the first year of the 21st Century. That is also incorrect - but it's common usage.

I would not expect to read "in the beginning of the 20th C." It's more likely to be written as "near the beginning of the 20th C." or "early in the 20th C.".

Another usage could be "Acupuncture appeared in the West beginning with (or, "beginning in") the 20th Century." In that case, we need to understand the context. If we are discussing events of the 1880s-1890s, then I would interpret "beginning with" to mean 1900-1910 or so. Note that I included 1900!

If we are discussing dynasties over the last 2500 years, and noting events that happened in the 16th Century, and acupuncture appearing in the 20th Century, I would take the range to be 1900-2000 (a 101-year range).

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    @Htin Aung Linn, please note the way Mr. Barnard has consistently used "the" with all his references to centuries [the 20th Century, the 16th Century]. Including that definite article is more important than the choice of "in" or "at" for making the whole phrase sound idiomatic. (I.e. you need it.)
    – Lorel C.
    May 17, 2019 at 14:52
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I would say "in the early 20th century". Look at this.

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It's just similar to the difference between 'at the end' and 'in the end' where the former is used to specify a particular point in time or location, and the latter a conclusion or final result.

Then in your case, 'Acupuncture appeared in the West at the beginning of 20th century.' would sound more idiomatic because you are more referring to a particular moment or position within a timeline rather than the origin or creation of something.

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