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Recently, an Italian friend of mine corrected my sentence, "Sono a dieta, l'ho cominciata tre giorni fa", like this: "Sono a dieta, ho iniziato la dieta tre giorni fa." Is there any difference between the two verbs in meaning or usage? Just for the record, my friend is from Mantova, if this is something regional.

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    Although I agree with Chomsky when he says there are no true synonyms in a language, I would say there is no differences between these two words. Their use imho just depend on regional or personal preferences. However, I'm curious to read answers to this question, also because I have some doubt about their transitive properties. I would also say: "Sono a dieta. L'ho cominciata tre giorni fa". – donnadulcinea May 11 '14 at 9:58
  • I also agree with Chomsky's opinion.Thank you for your comment. Is,"l'ho cominciato...." wrong? (instead of cominciata?) – Vic May 11 '14 at 10:18
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    I haven't been able to find any clear source for this, but I suspect that "cominciare" is more frequent in the South whereas "iniziare" is more frequent in the North. Is anybody here aware of any regionalism in the use of the two verbs? – user193 May 11 '14 at 11:41
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    @vic, as also pointed out by randomatlabuser the gender of the verb depends on what it's referring to: - l'ho cominciata (is referring to la dieta, with l'ho = la ho, f.) - io ho cominciato la dieta (it's a normal past participle) – donnadulcinea May 11 '14 at 16:45
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"Iniziare" and "cominciare" are virtually interchangeable.

According to L'Accademia della Crusca, "iniziare" used to be only transitive or intransitive with pronoun particle («il corso s'inizia a ottobre»); due to the influence of the verb "cominciare" - which was used also as intransitive verb - "iniziare" has come to be used the same way, without the pronoun particle and with auxiliary verb "essere" («il corso è iniziato a ottobre»).

In this specific case you can say: «Sono a dieta, l'ho cominciata tre giorni fa», «Sono a dieta, l'ho iniziata tre giorni fa», «Sono a dieta, ho cominciato tre giorni fa», «Sono a dieta, ho iniziato tre giorni fa».

You should probably avoid «Sono a dieta, ho iniziato/cominciato la dieta tre giorni fa» unless you really need to repeat the word "dieta" for some rhetoric or other reason.

The only difference between "iniziare" and "cominciare" is when you use "iniziare" with the meaning of initiating someone into some kind of philosophical mystery or religious secret; or, figuratively, initiating someone into some kind of knowledge or community of people, etc.

See also "Iniziazione", 1, 2, 3, 4, and these are only from Treccani :-)

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Choose your favorite Italian writer from the origin to our times, and try the interesting experiment of a search of "cominc*" and "iniz*" in his/her works. As you can see, nobody would use "iniziare" outside the philosophical/religious meaning, mentioned in randomatlabuser's thorough answer (e.g.: Decameron: "cominc*" 628 matches, "iniz*" only one: "inizio", chosen instead of a more common "cominciamento", possibly with ironic intent).

As a matter of fact, "iniziare" became more frequent, and of more general meaning, only recently, especially after the introduction of the television. There has been a general tendency, especially driven by the commercial language, of looking for elegant and high-level speech, avoiding all expressions that are dialectal or believed to be dialectal, often exaggerating and sometimes with weird effects (one and for all: in many takeaway one can now read "pizza da asporto" instead of "da portar via", where "asportare", usually a medical term, is itself a teratoma "to be excised").

In conclusion: I'd certainly say "cominciare una dieta", and maybe save "iniziare" for more challenging tasks, e.g. "ho iniziato la lettura di Kant".

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    That is very interesting indeed! I agree that "cominciare" used to be more frequent than "iniziare" and readers should be encouraged to repeat Pietro's experiment and verify by themselves. – user193 May 23 '14 at 13:29
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In theory, these are not synonyms. “Iniziare” is a transitive verb; someone “inizia” something (or to do something), eg, il maestro inizia a spiegare (the teacher starts teaching) whereas cominciare is intransitive and the subject is not who begins something, but the thing that begins (la lezione comincia, the lesson begins).

So - the teacher begins teaching - iniziare; - the lesson begins - cominciare.

However, this distinction is for language purists and academics; people use both verbs interchangeably - so they both use them correctly or swap them incorrectly. “Iniziare” has a less more formal and educated sound, while “cominciare” is more ordinary; but this difference is very slight too.

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  • Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Jul 29 at 6:41
  • “less more formal”: you simply mean “more formal”, don't you? – DaG Jul 29 at 9:48
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There is almost no difference. You can use either of them.

  • Ho iniziato a lavorare. I started to work.
  • Ho cominciato a lavorare. I started to work.
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  • What does this answer add to the existing ones? – DaG Apr 12 at 12:43

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