Friday, 6 November 2015


This was just in my Twitter feed, which I enjoyed. And it made me think about (a) start/finish versus begin/end and (b) the problems we had when coding the Swedish equivalents for a study we did.

On the (a) point, I tend to think of start/finish and begin/end as the conventionalized pairings of antonyms, reflecting subtle differences in the meanings of the alleged synonyms, but that doesn't mean that you don't see start/end--but begin/finish? In the Corpus of Contemporary American English, looking for the different verbs (in their different forms) conjoined with and you get:

begin and end: 526
start and finish: 66
start and end: 131
begin and finish: 2
In the corpus overall the verb start is about twice as frequent as begin, while end is about 3x as frequent as finish (counting base verb forms only).  

The pattern here reminds me of big/little and large/small, where big can go with either opposite, but large rarely gets paired with little. And you can come up with semantic reasons why that is true. In fact, many people have...including Vicky Muehleisen and me

On (b): Swedish similarly has a couple of frequent pairs in this semantic field, but they are morphologically related: börja and sluta and påbörja and avsluta. (Some discussion here of the difference between sluta and avsluta.) We found that they got all mixed up in terms of which are paired, so we just counted them all together because of the morphological connection. Maybe we shouldn't have--we certainly wouldn't have if they'd been completely different words like begin/end/start/finish.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed Henry Hitchings' tweet!

1 comment:

  1. Back in the 70's/80's (I think) there was a British comedy duo called ”Little and Large” - yes, one was fat, the other was thin.