In English start and stop are pretty much interchangeable with begin and end, although they are usually grouped together in those particular pairs. In German, however, there are many more choices. I have selected a few for this question, though feel free to add more in your answer. When choosing the correct German words:

  • How would you explain the difference between anfangen, angehen, starten, and beginnen?
  • Similarly, how would you explain the difference between aufhören, anhalten, stoppen, and [be]enden?
  • Do some refer more to time and some more to motion or action?
  • Do they translate differently, or are they interchangeable?
  • 1
    I believe this question does need a specific context to be answerable in a sensible way (i.e. other than a long list of dictionary entries). Look how many synonyms start and stop have in English!
    – Takkat
    Mar 23, 2012 at 7:34
  • Side note: start is common in spoken English, begin is more frequent in written English and used for describing a series of events.
    – Em1
    Mar 23, 2012 at 8:32
  • The question is overly broad. There are 2*3! = 12 comparisons asked, and for each one, there are many examples possible. Mar 23, 2012 at 13:04

2 Answers 2


So I'll try my luck here too:

anfangen and beginnen are definitely the same in meaning but beginnen generally sounds a bit more "formal". I think anfangen is the way to go in every day situations.

It starts raining. Es beginnt zu regnen. Es fängt an zu regnen.

I think the second German phrasing is more common as the event is so mundane that it doesn't really merit a beginnen. A play in a theater beginnt.

Angehen has to be treated with care as there are 2 versions in sense of to start.

Der Motor geht nicht an. The engine won't start.

This is NOT connected to a personal effort. But it is however limited to a machine sort of thing. It doesn't work for rain or a play so it is clearly different to the first 2 words. The second angehen is

Ich gehe ein Problem an.

That does not mean that I start it but that I start dealing with it. So it has some notion of to start but it is definitely way different to beginnen, starten, anfangen and the other angehen. Just for completion there is also losgehen, which is to start but by oneself. So a movie can losgehen but I can't losgehen to read. And then there is anmachen, which is a bit like starten but even more limited to a machine.

Ich mache den Motor an. I start the engine.

Now let's get to stop. The verbs suggested are NOT THE SAME as landei supposes... especially not stoppen and aufhören.

Stoppen means to stop a motion or process of some kind and it is a rather sudden and definite stop in comparison to the others. Stoppen is usually not done by the thing itself but by someone. You can use it that way but it is rare. Generally it is not a word I use very often. If I have to stop someone from doing something I would prefer aufhalten but stoppen works too.

Anhalten is the best choice for locomotion. That is pretty much it but that makes anhalten a very frequently used term already.

aufhören can be used for all kinds of actions BUT only you yourself can aufhören doing something. You cannot aufhören a car. That will not make any sense. I have written an article on aufhören on my blog and one about einstellen if you want to know more about that word. Aufhören has no notion of finishing. You just stop and might start 3 minutes later again.

beenden includes finishing. It is always you who beendet something. Things cannot beenden by themselfes. The proper word for that is enden.

Der Film endet um 10. Ich beende meinen Vortrag.

I might be back for edits but I hope this was somehow clarifying things.

  • As "angehen" and "anmachen" can be used to start a machine (eg engine), I suppose that "ausgehen" and "ausmachen" can be used to stop it? It'd be nice to include them in your (already very good) answer. Also, "anlassen" may also be used to start an engine, but I think it is not so usual as the other options. May 23, 2019 at 17:22

"anfangen", "beginnen" ans "starten" are the same, neutral way to say "to begin something", but "starten" is used more for machines and engines. "angehen" has the connotation of a certain effort you want to put in your action.

Typical uses:

Wir müssen anfangen / beginnen zu sparen.

Wir starten / beginnen das Experiment.

Wir starten die Rakete.

Wir gehen die Herausforderungen / den Berg an.

Ich beginne / fange an zu verstehen.

"aufhören" and "stoppen" are again the same, neutral way to say "to stop to do something", but again "stoppen" is used more for for engines and machines. "anhalten" works only for machines, cars etc, not for actions. "[be]enden" means to end something, e.g. a career.

Typical uses:

Wir müssen das Auto / Sparpaket stoppen.

Wir müssen aufhören, Schulden zu machen.

Ich will mit dem Rauchen aufhören.

Das Auto muss an der Ampel anhalten / stoppen.

Wir müssen das Töten in Syrien beenden / stoppen.

Die Gewalt in Syrien muss aufhören.

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