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Question in nuance? (最初に、初めに、etc.)

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Question in nuance? (最初に、初めに、etc.)

Postby ThePacster » Sun 08.01.2010 10:59 am

Just been doing a bit of review of vocabulary and whatnot, and stumbled across a word I haven't seen in a while and realized it has always confused me in comparison to other words that seem to have a similar meaning, namely 初めに and 初めは.

I've seen quite a few sentences that start with 初めに、初めは、最初に、最初は、etc. but I've never really understood if there's a real difference between them. If anyone can elaborate on their usage and any distinctions that may exist between them it would be greatly appreciated.
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Re: Question in nuance? (最初に、初めに、etc.)

Postby NileCat » Sun 08.01.2010 12:43 pm

Hi ThePacster,

To begin with, "はじめに" can be used like "to begin with".
It's an adverb. Literally translated, it is very similar to "firstly".
On the other hand, it would be easy to understand if you assume "はじめは" as two words consist of a noun and a particle. Literally translated, it means "first thing is". Sometimes "first thing was" or "that happened in the beginning was".
If you went to an island on vacation,
はじめに、泳いだ。 ....Firstly, you swam. You went to swim promptly when you arrived the island.
はじめは、泳いだ。.....You swam at first. You enjoyed swimming though, you might want to mention you got bored after a while.

Secondly, "最" here means "the very" like "the very beginning". Usually interchangeable with no "最" version. Because meaning-wise, first and very first are the same.
最初に、泳いだ。
最初は、泳いだ。
There isn't a big difference from "はじめ" in many cases. ( JFYI, 最初 often LOOKs more proper or more formal to many people. But, technically speaking, that's not grammatically true.)

Lastly, there are two different kanji for the word ”はじめ", which are 初め and 始め. The difference is, well, EXTREMELY difficult to explain. Maybe the most simple explanation would be that it's like the difference between "start" and "begin". But... do you know the common problem on "はじめまして"?  That can be a controversial issue. So I recommend to use hiragana when you are not sure. That's what I usually do. :)

Well, I have no idea if I answered to your question properly, though...
Hope it helps.
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