As far as I know, both words mean the same thing in English — “start”. Is there any difference in the meaning or in the usage of the two verbs?

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    You've got several verbs in English to express the idea of a beginning as well: start, begin, commence. They all have their own specific uses too, unfortunately it seems the semantics don't overlap the same way as in French. – didierc Dec 4 '14 at 15:02

Démarrer implies some initial impulse or effort. Etymologically it comes from désamarrer (i.e. “undock” a boat, which is not necessarily a trivial matter). An extended figurative use slowly emerged, competing with the use of commencer in the beginning of the 20th century, but commencer is still far more common.

One can often substitute one for the other, but a slight nuance exists. In the following sentence:

Il a démarré sa carrière à la télévision.

the TV appears more relevant to the development of this person's career than in:

Il a commencé sa carrière à la télévision.


Dans un registre familier, ils sont PRESQUE interchangeables (on évitera par exemple de dire "commencer le moteur").

Il n'y a malheureusement pas de règles précises.



Je traduirais plutôt :

Démarrer -> to kick off
Commencer -> to begin

  • Merci beaucoup. But can I use the two interchangeably? – user3182445 Nov 29 '14 at 11:22
  • @user3182445: Not really, it depends on context. You can translate both by start but it's too vague in most cases. – Toto Nov 29 '14 at 11:31

Démarrer est lié à la notion de nouveauté, d'effort. Commencer est plutôt lié à l’immédiateté de l'action.

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