What is the difference between initiate and start?


New Member
Hello everyone.
I'm wondering if you can tell me the difference between initiate and start. I found a sentence which had "initiate."

・This ceremony formally initiates you into this religion.

I understand that in this sentence "initiate" and "start" are not interchangeable. But I also sometimes find a sentence which is like "You should initiate...." So, in this case, are initiate and start interchangeable, and can I say "You should start..."?

Please help me figure out the one of the most nagging questions I have.:)

*and please let me know if there is a mistake in my English sentences above:)

Thank you very much in advance!
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Yes, 'initiate' has a special meaning when it means "admit into a religious or magical practice". Other than that, it's just a fancy word for 'start'. It's normally used with processes that take some time: initiate peace talks, a new welfare programme, a criminal investigation, the launch sequence for a rocket, legislation, a feasibility study, a project, etc.


    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I agree with entangledbank.

    I use initiate when we begin the first of a series of steps to accomplish something. I might also use start in that context. However, if I am talking about a single simple act, by one person, I would use only start, not initiate:
    He started running down the street.

    He initiated running down the street.

    The second sentence suggests that he was the first to run and that other people followed his example, though it is an awkward way to express this idea.


    Senior Member
    English & Swahili - East Africa
    Too often, people use longer words, or more of them, than they should, thinking to look smarter than they think they are. So when someone talks of 'initiating a conversation', he's doing the same sort of thing as someone who talks of 'at this present moment' when he means 'now'.When someone learns to use the simpler, shorter, punchier expressions, his English improves to the point where he cannot possibly be mistaken for a recent college graduate.


    New Member
    Thank you all very much!

    So, if I put together all the information you provided, it is...

    Initiate: used with processes that take some time.
    Start: used when something is done chiefly by one person.

    So, the reason that the sentence (This ceremony formally initiates you into this religion.) uses "initiate" rather than "start" is because:
    ・"you" will have to practice (taking processes) for a long time (taking some time) with other members (not just by oneself)



    Moderate Mod
    No, the reason that the sentence uses initiate is because, as Entangledbank mentioned, initiate has a special meaning when it comes to religious, magical or mystical practices or some special societies. When used under those circumstances, it doesn't mean merely "start," it means "admit formally into a society or group, typically with a ritual."


    New Member
    So, if it is used in a religious matter, it means like "to take faith in a religious practice," or "to embrace a religious practice"?
    If so, can I say "If you would like to initiate this practice" and "At that time, many people started to initiate this practice" ?


    Moderate Mod
    No - I'm so sorry I'm not being clear. Let me try one more time and if that doesn't work, perhaps someone else ought to try.

    When initiate is being used in reference to entering a society, a belief-based group, a religion, a club or something like that - that is, a closed group that doesn't let just anybody in - it means "to be formally admitted into a society or group," and it implies that there is some ceremony or ritual involved. The person being initiated already believes - if not, he wouldn't asked to be admitted to the group - but the initiation (the noun form of the word) is the group's way of formally admitting the person into that group. An initiation is, in this context, a ceremony of some sort. It can be sweet and silly, it can be arcane and odd, it can be painful, it can just require a lot of work. It's up to the group involved.

    Examples: When I was a little girl, I was a member of a club for little girls called the Brownies, which is for girls who are too young to be members of the Girl Scouts of America. When I became old enough to become a Girl Scout, there was a ceremony called the "bridging ceremony," and during it all of us little Brownies crossed a symbolic bridge and became Girl Scouts. The bridging ceremony was the way we were initiated into the Girl Scouts. Secret societies might require recruits to memorize various rituals before they are initiated into the club. Fraternities and sororities usually have traditions that they pass on to recruits, too - some pleasant, some unpleasant. What initiate means in the religious/ritual sense is "become familiar with and accept the traditions of the group."

    So in your original sentence, initiates is the one and only correct verb. None of its synonyms works because, as far as I know, none of the synonyms carries the sense of formal admitance that initiate does.


    English - England
    The main distinction between to start and to initiate is that you initiate, the first/initial time. It would be rare to initiate something twice or more - you would only do it if the first attempt to start it had failed.

    In the context of membership of cults, philosophies, clubs, secret societies, or, as you say, practices, etc., to initiate usually means to have a ceremony of accepting a person into the organisation: to start their initial membership. Later they may bea further initiated into higher levels.

    "He was initiated into the lusts of Satanism by the Grand Warlock who broke a plate over his head."

    "At that time, many people started to initiate this practice" There are two starts (to start, to initinate) and it thus means that many people, started to start. As we can say that not all of them did it for the first time, I would advise, "At that time, many people started to bring in/to introduce this practice."
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