Am I correct in my understanding of their corresponding explanation sections (and their kanji, now that I think about it) that 始めに refers more to space while 初めに refers more to time?
I was really confused that ‘beginning’ was not being accepted for 始めに until I rechecked the vocab lists and realized that the two shared the reading.
If its helpful: word choice - What is the difference between 始め 初め and 始まり? - Japanese Language Stack Exchange
important to note from that article: “The 初め・始め distinction is a subtle one that even Japanese speakers have questions about”
- 初め expresses a meaning of the early stage of a period of time, the beginning of things .
- 始め means engaging in some new behavior, or things happening, from a particular point in time .
@kasumitomonari has a good answer already, but another way to look at it is to see what kanji compounds use each one:
初級 - beginner level
初版 - first edition
初 is like a discrete stage that starts things off.
開始 - start, beginning, opening
原始 - origin, beginning, genesis
始 - starting from a particular point in time.
A useful trick with Jisho is to surround the kanji with asterisks to get all words that use that kanji:
My approach, which is linked to what’s said in this article in Japanese and to how the kanji are used in Japanese and Chinese, is basically
- 初め = ‘the first’ (think of how 初（はつ）〜 I s used as a prefix meaning ‘the first ~’)
- 始め = ‘the start (of an action)’ (think of how the verb 始める is used if you know it)
The former is the first in a sequence; the latter is how something begins. The former is linked to order; the latter to the starting point of something. It’s not about space and time though. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on these two because I get confused at times too, but they’re very clearly distinguished in Chinese, and I think the kanji compounds above should show you that as well. I’ll leave you to read the detailed explanations provided by everyone else: I just wanted to write something that was hopefully clear and concise for once. I hope this helps.
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