She started/began to say something, but he'd already gotten up and left the house.

I think "start" is used for abrupt and long-lasting actions. And "began" is used for actions that start gradually and in the moment.

What is the most common choice and why?

  • 2
    Your definitions seem to contradict themselves! Dictionaries often use both words to define one another, so there isn't any great difference in meaning. Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 13:50
  • @KateBunting For example, "she started ballet last year" sounds better than "she began ballet classes last year." Because of the "long-lasting effect that I mentioned.
    – wyc
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 12:37
  • 1
    But I wouldn't call starting ballet classes an abrupt action! And we can say 'It has started to rain' without knowing how long the rain is going to last. Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 13:01
  • @KateBunting No, in this case, it's an action that has long-lasting effects. Or you think "she began ballet classes last year" is okay?
    – wyc
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 13:23
  • 1
    Did you mean 'abrupt OR long-lasting'? Can you see why I said your definitions were contradictory? There's nothing intrinsically wrong with 'She began ballet classes', though I agree that 'started' would probably be the usual choice. Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 13:34

1 Answer 1


The words "started" and "began" are synonyms. They can be used interchangeably and there is no discernable difference in the meaning of your two possible sentences.

I can't say if one choice is more common than the other. It's entirely up to the speaker or writer which one fits the current situation.

There are some other meanings for both that would exclude the other. For example:

"He started the car a few minutes early so that it would be warm when he left for work."

In this case "began" does not fit as you don't "begin" a car unless you are a car designer.

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