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Quick answer
"En un principio" is a phrase which is often translated as "at first", and "al principio" is an adverb which is often translated as "at the beginning". Learn more about the difference between "en un principio" and "al principio" below.
en un principio(
ehn
 
oon
 
preen
-
see
-
pyoh
)
A phrase is a group of words commonly used together (e.g once upon a time).
phrase
1. (general)
a. at first
En un principio, todo estaba saliendo según lo planeado, pero nos quedamos sin fondos.At first, everything was going according to plan, but we ran out of funds.
b. to start with
En un principio, le pagaremos $25 la hora, pero si todo va bien, puede llegar a cobrar hasta $40 la hora.To start with, we'll pay you $25 per our, but if everything goes well, you can earn up to $40 per hour.
c. in the beginning
Cuando lo acusé de acoso, nadie me creyó en un principio, pero luego tuvieron que rendirse a la evidencia.When I accused him of harassment, no one believed me in the beginning, but then they had to accept the evidence.
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al principio(
ahl
 
prreen
-
see
-
pyoh
)
An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or other adverbs (e.g. to run quickly, very tired).
1. (at first)
a. at the beginning
Las clases eran fáciles al principio, pero para el final del año nadie entendía nada.Classes were easy at the beginning, but by the end of the year, no one understood anything.
b. initially
Me cayó bien al principio, pero después descubrí que era una estafadora.I liked her initially, and then I discovered that she was a con artist.
c. in the beginning
Recuerdo que, al principio, le daba miedo conducir.I remember that, in the beginning, he was afraid of driving.
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