I've noticed that начало means beginning and сначала means first (in the sense of precendence in time), for instance:

At the beginning of June I bought the table first.

is translated as

В начале июня я сначала купил стол.

Beginning and first (with the above meaning) are indeed related concepts. But in English, for instance, they seem to share nothing (in the sense that for the above meaning, i.e. coming earlier in time, the same word as the numeral meaning of first is used).

Why are they so close in Russian?

  • No, why do they "share nothing" in English while being "indeed related concepts"? That is the question!
    – Zeus
    Feb 21, 2023 at 23:35
  • 'Why' is hardly an answerable question here. It's not like those (or any other) words were deliberately chosen by someone for some specific reason...
    – Igor G
    Feb 23, 2023 at 18:50
  • 2
    They are so close because сначала was originally a prepositional phrase containing the word начало: с начало
    – David42
    Feb 24, 2023 at 0:18
  • @David42, so I guess it's a bit like непонятно, which I imagine comes from не понятно?
    – Enlico
    Feb 24, 2023 at 0:24
  • Yes, quite a number of Russian words appear to have originally been short phrases. Most of them are now adverbs like вместо, but there is at least one noun which appears to have been formed in this manner: бездна. Though it is presumably from the phrase "без дна", it is declined as a noun: в бездну, из бездны, в бездне
    – David42
    Feb 25, 2023 at 3:45

4 Answers 4


Why are they so close in Russian?

Exactly why you said: because the concepts are closely related.

Among English synonyms to the adverb "first" there are "for starters", "initially", and "to begin with", all of which descend from the words meaning "to begin". So Russian is not unique in this aspect.


Начало is somethinf initialliy, beginning, start point. Depend on what prepositions you will use

В начале use to say about first part of the something(time or for example road).

В начале дороги устанавливается знак ПДД.

С начала use to describe period from some start point to the moment of the speech.

С начала года было зафиксировано 300 случаев.

Сначала use to say about periodicity, you say what happend first But as mentiond above, it is not perfect translation. To say сперва is literary.

Сначала купим банки, и потом поедем за овощами.

They're so close because they have a similar meaning, and moreover they're single-root words (or cognates). The word сначала is related to other single-root words: начать, начинать, поначалу, изначально, начальник, вначале, изначальный, начальство, начальный.

Single-root words, in addition to the common root, must have a similar meaning. For example, the word сначала has the root -ча-, as does the word чаепитие. But these words can't possibly belong to a common root -ча-, since they have completely different meanings.


I don't why. That's not 100% correct. It's better to use сперва=first/at first moment/firstly.

Сначала is more close to initially, and it usually used in storytelling. Сначала separates the part of the storyline that introduces something.

Сперва is used in short phrases about what one should've done, as well as other actions:

"И вот она сперва долго плакала, а потом стала злая."

"And so, at first she cried for a long time and then she became angry."

And сначала for example:

Сначала это был только пушистый комок с двумя веселыми глазами и бело-розовым носиком. Дремал этот комок на подоконнике, на солнце; лакал, жмурясь и мурлыча, молоко из блюдечка; ловил лапой мух на окне; катался по полу, играя бумажкой, клубком ниток, собственным хвостом... И мы сами не помним, когда это вдруг вместо черно-рыже-белого пушистого комка мы увидели большую, стройную, гордую кошку, первую красавицу и предмет зависти любителей. - |this was all сначала.|

Сначала - bla bla bla...

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