difference between beginnen and anfangen

What’s the difference between “beginnen” and “anfangen”?

Wondering what’s the difference between “beginnen” and “anfangen” in German? Is there actually a difference or are these verbs interchangeable? 

Beginnen and anfangen both mean “to start/to begin”. They can be used interchangeably most of the time – the difference in meaning is very subtle. For example, some people perceive beginnen as a more formal verb compared to anfangen which is common in everyday language. The main difference between beginnen and anfangen has to do with grammar. Beginnen is a non-separable verb while anfangen has a separable prefix: Wir beginnen jetzt. Wir fangen jetzt an.

When I asked a couple of my German friends if they feel any difference between these two verbs, their answers confused me at first. Some do feel that beginnen is more common in formal situations, some said they mostly use anfangen in their everyday life, and others said there is absolutely no difference between them.

These are actually good news for German learners. If native German speakers don’t see any clear difference between beginnen and anfangen, then you don’t need to worry about using the wrong word. You can just pick the verb that you like more. 

Beginnen is a great verb for beginners 🙂 The conjugation is simpler compared to anfangen and you don’t need to worry about the separable prefix an. And if you are an English speaker – beginnen will definitely be easier to remember as it’s similar to English “to begin”.

With time, as you learn about separable prefixes in German, you can start using anfangen more. And as you hear and speak more German, you will develop a feeling which verb sounds better or fits better in different situations.

Top 100 German verbs for beginners 

Let’s look at some examples with the verbs beginnen and anfangen.

beginnen(begann – hat begonnen) – to start/begin

Präsens Präteritum Perfekt
ich beginne I start ich begann I started ich habe begonnen I have started
du beginnst you start du begannst you started du hast begonnen you have started
er/sie/es beginnt he/she/it starts er/sie/es begann he/she/it started er/sie/es hat begonnen he/she/it has started
wir beginnen we start wir begannen we started wir haben begonnen we have started
ihr beginnt you start ihr begannt you started ihr habt begonnen you have started
sie/Sie beginnen they/you start sie/Sie begannen they/you started sie/Sie haben begonnen they/you have started

Meine Vorlesung beginnt in zwanzig Minuten. – My lecture starts in twenty minutes.

Um wieviel Uhr beginnt der Super Bowl? – What time does the Super Bowl start?

Du hast das sehr gut erklärt, ich beginne zu verstehen. – You explained that very well, I am beginning to understand.

Er begann zu joggen, um abzunehmen. – He started jogging to lose weight.

Der Countdown hat begonnen. – The countdown has started.

beginnen and anfangen are often used with preposition mit: beginnen/anfangen mit + Dativ – to start with smth/get started with something:

Wann können Sie mit der Arbeit beginnen? – When can you start work?

Ich kann sofort mit der Arbeit beginnen. – I can start working right away.

Wann beginnst du wieder mit dem Training? – When do you start training again?

anfangen(fing an – hat angefangen) – to start/begin

Präsens Präteritum Perfekt
ich fange an I start ich fing an I started ich habe angefangen I have started
du fängst an you start du fingst an you started du hast angefangen you have started
er/sie/es fängt an he/she/it starts er/sie/es fing an he/she/it started er/sie/es hat angefangen he/she/it has started
wir fangen an we start wir fingen an we started wir haben angefangen we have started
ihr fangt an you start ihr fingt an you started ihr habt angefangen you have started
sie/Sie fangen an they/you start sie/Sie fingen an they/you started sie/Sie haben angefangen they/you have started

Pay attention to separable prefix an in the sentences:

Er fängt an, Deutsch zu lernen. – He starts to learn German.

Ich fange mit dem Joggen an. – I start jogging.

Ich will mit dem Joggen anfangen. – I want to start jogging.

Wie fange ich am besten mit Joggen an? – What’s the best way to start jogging?

Es fing an zu regnen. – It started raining.

Alle fingen an zu essen. – Everyone started to eat.

Ich habe mit dem Training angefangen. – I started training.

Wann hast du angefangen, Deutsch zu lernen? – When did you start learning German?

Finally here are some examples of the sentences with the same meaning but using different verbs beginnen or anfangen.

Wann fängt das Konzert an? Wann beginnt das Konzert? – When does the concert start?

Es beginnt zu schneien. Es fängt an zu schneien. – It starts to snow.

Die Vorstellung beginnt um 12 Uhr. Die Vorstellung fängt um 12 Uhr an. – The performance starts at 12.

Wann beginnst du mit der Arbeit? Wann fängst du mit der Arbeit an? – When do you start work?

Wir begannen, die Wohnung zu renovieren. Wir fingen an, die Wohnung zu renovieren. – We started renovating the apartment

Ich habe mit dem Kochen begonnen. Ich habe mit dem Kochen angefangen. – I started cooking.

Wir haben mit dem Training begonnen. Wir haben mit dem Training angefangen. – We started training. 

What about starten

starten  also means “to start/begin” but also “to launch/take off”.

 In some situations, starten is interchangeable with beginnen and anfangen.

Wann startet der Sommersemester? Wann beginnt der Sommersemester? Wann fängt der Sommersemester an? – When does the summer semester start?

Starten is usually used to talk about sports competitions, starting/launching a car/engine/computer/project.

Ich möchte einen Blog starten. – I want to start a blog.

Wie starte ich ein Zoom Meeting als Host? – How do I start a Zoom meeting as a host?

Kann man ein Auto ohne Schlüssel starten? – Can you start a car without a key?

Der Wettbewerb startet in fünf Minuten. – The competition starts in five minutes.

Das Flugzeug startete mit großer Verspätung vom Flughafen Frankfurt. – The plane took off from Frankfurt Airport with a long delay.

Du musst den Computer neu starten. – You need to restart your computer.

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what's the difference between beginnen and anfangen





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