Begin, Start, Commence

24 March 2023

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question about "start," "begin," and "commence."


Dear VOA,

Ask a Teacher: Begin, Start, or Commence?
Ask a Teacher: Begin, Start, or Commence?

Please let me know the difference between "begin," "start" and "commence," and their usage.


Saeed from Iran


Thanks for this great question, Saeed!

These words have similar meanings, but the difference lies in how formal they are and their usage. Let's take a closer look at each one. Let's start with "start!"


"Start" can either be a verb or a noun. As a verb, "start" means to happen or come into being from a particular point in time.

I always start my day with a cup of tea.

Julie started teaching last year.

As a noun, "start" has two meanings. It can be the point in time when something happens or begins.

The start of the race is downtown.

When is the start of the budget year?

Another meaning is a movement that is sudden or surprising.

Guinea pigs have sudden starts called "popcorning," like jumping in the air.

We also use "start" to talk about things like machines and business.

My computer will not start!

She started her own business by creating videos on YouTube.

In comparison to the other words, "begin" and "commence," "start" is the most informal of the three.


"Begin" means the same thing as "start." But remember that "begin" has different spelling in the past tenses - "began" and "begun." Here are some examples:

Regina began as an actor before changing her career to become a director.

I have begun to work on the class project, but I have yet to finish it.

In language, sometimes we say a word "begins" with a certain letter of the alphabet. We also use it to describe when someone starts to speak.

"I cannot wait for Friday," she began, "this work week felt so long!"


"Commence" means to start or begin. The difference is that "commence" is the most formal of the three. We usually use commence when talking about a ceremony or a project.

The graduation ceremony commences at one in the afternoon.

The groundbreaking for the new building will commence in the morning.

Spring commenced two days ago.

Please let us know if these explanations and examples have helped you, Saeed!

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And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

formal adj. following or according with established form, custom, or rule

particular adj. used to indicate that one specific person or thing is being referred to and no others

graduation n. the act of receiving a diploma from a school, college or university