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Quick answer
"Empezar" is an intransitive verb which is often translated as "to begin", and "ponerse a" is a pronominal verb phrase which is often translated as "to start". Learn more about the difference between "empezar" and "ponerse a" below.
An intransitive verb is one that does not require a direct object (e.g. The man sneezed.).
1. (to commence)
a. to begin
La nueva temporada de mi serie favorita empieza en un mes.The new season of my favorite show begins in a month.
b. to start
La palabra "serpiente" empieza con ese.The word "serpiente" begins with an s.
2. (to originate)
a. to start
La pelea empezó en la calle.The fight started in the street.
3. (to start out; used with "por" plus infinitive)
a. to begin by
Quiero empezar por decirte lo mucho que aprecio todo lo que has hecho.I want to begin by saying how much I appreciate what you've done.
b. to start by
Quiero empezar por darles la bienvenida esta noche.I'd like to start by welcoming you this evening.
A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
4. (to commence)
a. to start
Ya es hora de empezar el examen.It's time to start the exam now.
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ponerse a(
A pronominal verb phrase combines a verb with a preposition or other particle and always uses a reflexive pronoun. (e.g. Se dio cuenta del problema.)
pronominal verb phrase
1. (general)
a. to start
Justo cuando llegábamos a la playa, se puso a llover.It started raining just as we were arriving at the beach.
b. to begin
A Eva la está riñendo su madre y va y se pone a cantar.Eva was being told off by her mother, and then she goes and begins to sing.
c. to get down to
No estarás pensando en ponerte ahora mismo a limpiar la casa, ¿verdad?You're not thinking of getting down to cleaning the house right now, are you?
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