I have a gap-fill exercise in which begin and start are given:

_By the time I got to the cinema, the film (1)____.

_ As soon as they (2)_____ to explain, other people told at them to be quiet.

The answers are (1)had started and (2)began. Why aren’t they (1)had begun and (2)started? Although I sense that the former is more natural, I just can’t explain why the latter is wrong.

Although there was a discussion on this, I didn’t find any suitable explanation for my case.

  • 2
    Given that the fixed part of the question includes other people told at them to be quiet. I wouldn't put too much weight behind these questions. For the record, I think your answers sound more natural.
    – MikeB
    May 21, 2020 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


In the examples given, both begin and start would fit. I'd have put "had begun" and "started". So the person setting the test is wrong.

There are meanings of "start" that are not shared by "begin": To set in motion ("start an engine"), to play other than as a substitute ("Ronaldo starts for Juventus") or the original meaning, to suddenly move ("the horse started when the gun fired") And some expressions where "begin" is preferred, for example when paired with "end" ("The story begins and ends in another universe")


I'm a native English speaker, and the first choices I made were "the film had begun" and "started to explain". However, I would consider them equally correct the other way round "the film had started" and "began to explain". Start is a regular verb and begin is irregular; to all intents and purposes they are synonyms, so I really wouldn't worry about any putative difference. This type of (exam) question is rather contrived to begin with. In real life, language isn't always black and white.

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