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In the list of examples for the verb spark I found usages of spark off and spark:

  1. This proposal will almost certainly spark another countrywide debate about immigration.

  2. The visit of G20 leaders sparked off (= caused to start of) mass demonstrations.

It's not clear the difference between them. I mean, can we replace spark with spark off in the first example and spark off with spark in the second one?

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Yes, they are pretty much interchangeable in these cases. This is not the only case where this is true. "start" and "start off" are interchangeable in many situations as well.

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I don't think you are going to find a hard rule on this.

I found this definition for spark.

spark

  1. : to set off in a burst of activity : activate — often used with off
  2. : to stir to activity : incite

Here is one for spark off.

spark off
(tr, adverb) to bring into being or action; activate or initiate

So I would say that they have the same meaning. This coincides with my experience. You might also simply consider off as an intensifier.

In your specific examples, spark off and spark works for both.

It terms of how it sounds, spark without the off might sound a little more formal. So depending on your particular style, you might choose spark over spark off. But in terms of meaning, they are the same.

0

X sparked off Y might connote that Y is continuing after X ends, or that Y "took on a life of its own" or became an entity "unattached" to X due to size, intensity, etc.

X sparked Y can mean this too, but off emphasizes the meaning above.

This paper sparked off a discussion about our values (The discussion about values became a separate "thing" from the paper and could possibly grow into something on its own.)

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