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The children are eager to start the novel.

or

The children are eager to begin the novel.

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"To start the novel" could have a slightly different meaning than "begin the novel." –  kiamlaluno Apr 14 '11 at 14:17
    
and whats that difference? could you explain –  aliya Apr 14 '11 at 14:19
    
well, you could start the beguine, but there wouldn't be much point. –  sibbaldiopsis Apr 15 '11 at 2:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Begin, when used as transitive verb, means "start, perform, or undergo the first part of an action or activity."
Start, when used as transitive verb, means "cause (an event or process) to happen", or "cause or enable someone or something to begin doing or pursuing something."

In "the children are eager to start reading the novel," start means "embark on a continuing action."

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4  
For example, begin would mean they're going to read chapter 1. start could mean that they've been reading it every night and tonight they will be on chapter 12. –  Sam Apr 14 '11 at 14:47
    
this is a good answer. I would edit it to make clear that in their intransitive forms they are the same. –  Kevin Apr 14 '11 at 17:39
1  
“Oh my!” she said, starting. –  kiamlaluno Apr 14 '11 at 18:20

Not much. Both of those sentences are acceptable and mean the same thing.

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1  
I agree. I think it would be spurious over-analysing to attempt to differentiate here, even though there are potentially at least two underlying meanings. Either sentence could be used in either sense. –  FumbleFingers Apr 14 '11 at 15:37

The meanings are quite similar. The main difference is that start is both a noun and a verb. Begin is only a verb, with beginning as its noun version.

Someone pointed out another difference - that start can imply causation. ie - Start a fire. Begin doesn't really suggest this

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"Begin" might also be for something that has already started. But to "start" marks the actual/exact time of launching an activity (to understand more clearly, consider these two examples: This is just the beginning [meaning, all the initial period] . It's 10:00 o'clock, folks; let's get started [whenever we talk about a specific time, we rather use the word "start"]. Since we are bound by the two sentences above, we cannot speak of the noun-verb possibility of each word as a difference.

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In the context of your posted sentence, there is little difference between the use of the two verbs. Most readers would assume the sentences mean the same thing. In a different context, there is a potential ambiguity in both usages associated with the missing verb:

I must begin the novel.

Do I mean?:

I must begin reading the novel.

or:

I must begin writing the novel.

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