Outsets and onsets! (Words meaning ‘start’)

finger pressing a button labelled 'start'
sarayt Thaneerat/Moment/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

One of several things that we like to do on this blog is look at the many different ways that we express the same thing in English. This week we’re focusing on nouns and phrases that we use to refer to the start of things.

We use the phrase at / from the outset to mean ‘from the start of something’: There were staffing problems from the outset. / He made it clear at the outset that he wouldn’t be staying long. The phrases from the word go and from the off have the same meaning: The whole project had been a disaster from the word go. / We got on well right from the off. A more informal phrase with the same meaning is from the get-go: I knew from the get-go that she wasn’t right for the job.

There are some rather formal nouns and phrases used for referring to the start of something, especially something important. For example, we talk about the advent of something meaning ‘the introduction of something’, especially an invention or new way of doing something: The advent of digital photography has led to dramatic changes in the profession.

The beginning of an organization or official activity is sometimes referred to formally as its inception: Over 2,100 students have received scholarships since the programme’s inception in 2006. The noun birth can be used in a similar way: On this day, we celebrate the birth of our nation. / This led, ultimately, to the birth of the Labour Party.

The dawn of a period of time is its start. This phrase is commonly used with the noun ‘era’: These events marked the dawn of a new era in European history.

The noun onset is generally used for the start of something bad, especially an illness: It’s hoped that the drugs will delay the onset of the disease. / He dreaded the onset of winter.

An outbreak, meanwhile, is a time when something bad affecting many people starts, for example disease or fighting: Hospitals struggled to manage the flu outbreak. / This decade would see the outbreak of civil war.

Other ‘start’ words refer to the origin of something – the thing that caused it, for example the word genesis: The opera had its genesis in a ghost story. The noun roots is used in the same way: This tradition has its roots in early Christianity./ The Imperial family traces its roots back 1,500 years.

If you’d like to learn about phrasal verbs for starting things, please follow this link to a related post on this blog: It’s kicking off! (Phrasal verbs for starting things)


9 thoughts on “Outsets and onsets! (Words meaning ‘start’)

  1. Marion Thöns-Child

    Dear Kate,
    Could it be that the computer gulped a “zero”? = Over 21,00 students. I have the feeling it should be 21,000 students.
    With kind regards

  2. Tatiana

    Thank you, Kate! Your posts are always very useful and informative. I seem to have learnt a lot of new things, though I know all these words.

  3. I love the way, how you touch so many different facets of life. As ever, loved reading. Thanks ma’am 🙂

    PS, I’m doing the catch up with your posts

  4. John Gallagher

    Kate, you are absolutely tip top at helping people world wide to learn the english language and not that awful overused word interspersed in everyday conversations… Phew. Oh it’s the word, like, okay in its correct place!

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