The expression to start doing something is quite common. E.g.,

I started reading the book last week.

However, I could not find a similar structure using restart instead of start. I.e., assuming I had left it for some time and decided to resume my reading:

I restarted reading the book last week (?)

For instance, Merriam Webster provides two examples:

Transitive (with an object which is resumed)

They plan to restart negotiations next week.

Intransitive (when the subject itself is resumed)

The tournament will restart tomorrow.

Similar collocations appear in Oxford's and Cambridge's dictionaries, as well as in the many examples found in Linguee.

Could someone please confirm that restart cannot be used in this way? If so, I would like to know if there is a particular reason why simply adding the prefix re- limits its use (may be it is just not customary).

  • 3
    An interesting question. It seems like the scope of the repetitive re- prefix does not always stretch far enough to include a complement clause. Maybe it's limited to nominalized complements. Compare I started reading the book again, which can mean that I started reading a book after starting it before (and not finishing), but which can also mean that I started the book again after reading it through before -- quite a different proposition. – John Lawler Oct 12 '16 at 20:32
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    It's probably to do with the fact that He started to do it and ...started doing it are usually equivalent. Whereas although at least some people would accept he restarted walking too intensively and reinjured himself (which might be "unidiomatic", it's hardly "ungrammatical"). But I think there's something much more fundamentally flawed in He restarted to do it. – FumbleFingers Oct 12 '16 at 20:35
  • @FumbleFingers I agree, but see absolutely nothing wrong with he restarted reading the book. It is unusual but grammatical and even, I would have said, idiomatic. – WS2 Oct 12 '16 at 20:39
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    @WS2: I'd say it's at least somewhat "unusual", in that - as John implies - we'd normally just say I started reading / to read the book again, even though there's a potential ambiguity there. – FumbleFingers Oct 12 '16 at 20:42
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    I think it's accurate to say that restart resists taking an -ing clause. Certainly Cobuild doesn't include it in their list of verbs that do. However, there are quite a few examples on the internet. "Restarted taking" scores quite a few hits (19 000), "restarted reading" half as many, and not many for "restarted crying". I estimate less than 10 relevant hits for "restarted sleeping". The second verb would seem to have a large bearing on the idiomaticity of the pairing. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '16 at 22:51

As other answers have said, restart ≠ resume. A quick explanation:

Restarting means you're starting at page 1 (again). Resuming means you're going back to whatever page you left off at.

(To answer the otherwise valid question, I'll assume you really did mean restart, not resume.)

The reason why "I started reading the book last week" is valid is because the definition for start lists:

[with infinitive or present participle] ‘I started to chat to him’
‘we plan to start building in the autumn’

Oxford Dictionary

On the other hand, not one of the definitions for restart lets you use an infinitive or present participle.

You have plenty of other options, however:

  • I started reading the book again last week.
  • I started rereading the book last week.
  • I restarted the book last week.
  • I think you succinctly hit the nail on the head with "restart" not being equivalent to "resume." – Katherine Lockwood Nov 6 '16 at 22:33

The tournament will restart tomorrow.

It would be much more common to say "The tournament will resume tomorrow.", in lieu of "restart".

They plan to restart negotiations next week.

Again, it would be much more natural to say, "They plan to resume negotiations next week.", even though this sentence would be understood.

I restarted reading the book last week (?)

This is also awkward. I would probably say something like "I returned to reading my book last week."

On the other hand, it would sound quite natural to say, "I restarted the engine after I replaced the spark plug.", or "The doctor restarted his heart."

Similarly, I can easily think of contexts when "restarting" is idiomatic and natural. For example, "Fred is restarting the production line next week."

I'm not sure that any of these issues are pure grammatical rules so much as they are conventional idiomatic word choices. The meaning of even the awkward or unconventional uses is not unclear, but the usage strongly suggests that the speaker is not a native English speaker.

Looking at my own examples, I think that "restarting" has a mechanistic connotation that "start" does not. "Restarted" or "restarting" are usually going to sound natural when the sense is a mechanical one, but when the sense is not mechanical it is usually more natural to use a different word choice to mean "started again".


While "restarting" obviously has acceptable uses in contexts such as "restarting a computer," the context you suggest is not quite comparable.

Typically the -ing form is used only when "restart" is, itself, a unique action, rather than a repeat of a previous action. For instance, restarting a computer is not simply starting it again, but rather the sequence of shutting down and then starting it back up, which is only partially a repeat of the original actions taken to start it. Compare to "power-cycling".

Also possibly meaningful is that the computer variety of "restarting" has a duration, during which it is in-progress. At that time, "restarting" would be a proper description for its state.

In your case, however, you appear to mean that you will pick up the book again, possibly where you left off. It might be passable to say you will be restarting the book, but only if you have lost the thread of the story and wish to start from the beginning again. This would be more clearly stated as "starting over". However, if you simply mean you will pick up where you left off, then "restarting" would likely lead to confusion about which possible sense of the word you intended to use. I suggest that "continuing" would be far more appropriate in that case.

  • I appreciate your answer. However, my question was not about using "restart" its gerund form "restarting" but about the use of "restart" followed by a gerund as its complement. – Marshall Nov 2 '16 at 5:44

Another more idiomatic phrase when talking going back to the start of a book or a project one hadn't finished would be "I started over," as in "I picked up Wuthering Heights and started over." Or "I started Wuthering Heights for about the fiftieth time. I've never been able to stand any of the characters; I don't know why I keep trying to read it."

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