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I have the following two example sentences:

X is the key to starting their communication.

X is the key to start their communication.

E.g. Patience is the key to starting their communication.

Which is correct and, most importantly, why? Could both be correct/ why would either be incorrect?

I suspect that the first sentence is correct - as in a previous question asked here, wherein the ‘looking forward’ prefaced ‘to start/ starting’. I also suspect X does not make a difference, that the characteristic word is ‘key’.

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Both can be correct, but have different meanings. The key to these sentences is actually the gerund (~ing ending).

The start of something is an instantaneous moment in time. There is only one start, and once something has started, it does not start again.

The starting of something is a duration of time including the start, but possibly also the initial preparations, and also continuing for an indeterminate duration.

For an example, consider a foot race. The start of the race is when the gun goes off. But the starting of the race includes when the runners walked up to the start line, and might also include the early portion of the race itself where the runners are jockeying for initial position.

The key to start someone's communication is the key for the very instant of their initial contact.

Patience is the key to start their communication. (because they expect they will need to use that patience soon)

The key to starting someone's communication is the key for the early portion of their communication.

Patience is the key to starting their communication. (because as they are talking, they are frustrating each other)

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    I don't think, personally, that "Patience is the key to start their conversation" makes much sense because "the key to start" rather than "the key to starting" sounds, as you say, like a trigger rather rather than a prerequisite and patience is not really a trigger. "Sitting down together" could be "the key" even though it could also be a prerequisite because it is an action rather than an attribute.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 6 at 5:31

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