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What are the differences in meaning and usage between "to start" and "to get started"?

Are there any cases in which these variants are not interchangeable? I feel that there are. For example, this page looks less natural with its Start tab than it would with a Getting Started tab. I cannot see why there is a difference. Could you please explain?

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3 Answers 3

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I think to some degree "to get started" is a weasel phrase. Either you start something, and then it runs, or you don't. "Get started" implies, start it, but don't expect any results yet, because you're still starting and not actually doing yet.

Of course, the language is full of weasel phrases that add color and fuzziness, attempting to reflect the nuances of reality. Feel free to use them when it feels natural, but when you need clarity, use a different phrase, such as "start the planning phase" or "Silverlight installation tutorial".

A similar phrase is "to finish up" vs. "to stop".

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"To start" is an active construction, while "to get started" is a passive one.

There are some schools of thought that object to the use of passive verbs in formal writing, though that opinion is somewhat antiquated. Both are acceptable, but they do carry slightly different connotations--the emphasis is in different places.

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"There are some schools of thought that object to the use of passive verbs in formal writing" — really?! Can you point me to one? I've never seen such a thing, definitely not a school of thought. (If anything, the passive voice is more common in formal writing.) Certainly there is a bit of stylistic advice found in many places (say, in Strunk&White) that points out that in many cases the active voice is more "direct"/"vigorous"/etc., but even there there's no objection to the passive voice as such, and certainly not on grounds of formality. –  ShreevatsaR Oct 13 '10 at 17:37
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More importantly, "to get started" isn't really passive voice. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Oct 13 '10 at 17:38
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Strunk & White's style guide is the one I was thinking of, with the recommendation to avoid the passive voice. I've had some English teachers in the past who directed that the passive voice be avoided whenever possible, though the lesson never really "took" with me. ;-p –  munin Oct 13 '10 at 17:49
    
"To get started" is a sort of gerund phrase, now that I look at it more closely. In which case, there would necessarily be another verb in any sentence that uses "to get started" (e.g. I want to get started, or He needs to get started.) In any event, the "start" vs. the "get started" construction is much more direct and, for those not familiar with the language, clearer. –  munin Oct 13 '10 at 18:02

To get started (on sth) is more like to start off (with sth). To start gets me thinking in the direction of starting an engine. In the case of a web page or so, this would be used if there were a process or wizard and I wanted to go (back) to the beginning.

Get started as in your example implies that it is me that gets started by somebody else (imperative passive), get equipped, get a starter or beginning lecture. One could replace it with start here.

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