v. be·gan (-găn), be·gun (-gŭn), be·gin·ning, be·gins
1. To perform or undergo the first part of an action; start: I began to email you but got interrupted. The rain began around noon.
2. To come into being: when life began.
3. To do or accomplish something in the least degree. Used in the negative with an infinitive: Those measures do not even begin to address the problem.
4. To say as the first in a series of remarks: "I didn't like the movie," he began.
a. To have as a first element or part: The play begins with a monologue.
b. To have as the lowest price in a range: Those shirts begin at $20.
c. To have as a first position, stage, or job: The restaurant began as a ice-cream parlor. The principal began as a math teacher.
1. To take the first step in doing; start: began work.
2. To cause to come into being; originate: an invention that began a new era.
3. To come first in (a series, for instance): The numeral 1 begins the sequence.
[Middle English biginnen, from Old English beginnan.]
Synonyms: begin, start, commence, launch1, initiate, inaugurate
These verbs mean to take the initial step in doing something. Begin and start are the most general: The conductor began the program with a medley of waltzes. We started our journey in Montreal.
Commence is a more formal term and often implies that what is beginning is something of seriousness or importance: "ceremoniously brandishing the scalpel with which he was about to commence the apprentice's first lesson in anatomy" (John Gregory Brown).
Launch suggests beginning something with energy and expectation: She looked for a job that could launch her career as a journalist.
Initiate applies to taking the first steps in a process or procedure: I initiated a lawsuit against the driver who hit my car.
Inaugurate often connotes a formal beginning: "The exhibition inaugurated a new era of cultural relations" (Serge Schmemann).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.