Outset vs onset

Photo of author


Outset and onset are two words that are similar in meaning, but have very different connotations. A word’s connotation is all the meanings and associations it bears in addition to its literal meaning. We will examine the definitions and the connotations of the words outset and onset, where each of these words come from, and some examples of their use in sentences.

Outset means from the beginning; it describes something that is true or happens from the beginning of an event or process and continues to be true or to happen throughout the event or process. There is no overwhelming connotation attached to the word outset, it is simply a statement of fact. The word outset has been in use since the mid-1700s and is a closed compound word. A closed compound word is a word that is made up of two words joined together without hyphens or spaces.

Onset also means from the beginning; however, it carries the connotation of describing something unpleasant. For instance, one may refer to the onset of an illness, the onset of an economic downturn, or the onset of hurricane season. The word onset is also a closed compound word and has been in use since the mid-1500s. Originally, onset referred to a sudden attack.


Although excavations at the site ceased in 1975, at the outset of the Lebanese Civil War, reanalysis of the previously unearthed material by archaeologists Stephen Rhodes, Edward Banning, and Michael Chazan has shown that the cave was used as a hunting camp. (Archaeology Magazine)

As referenced in the governor’s State of the State address at the outset of this year’s legislative session, the legislation, co-sponsored by Ivey-Soto and Cadena, will cap co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for New Mexicans with diabetes, part of the governor’s push to decrease health care costs. (The Los Alamos Reporter)

Scientists at UCL have shown a blood test could predict the onset of tuberculosis three to six months before people become unwell, a finding which could help better target antibiotics and save countless lives. (Science Daily)

“Large dams aggravate flooding in low lying areas during the onset of typhoon season and causing billions of pesos in damage to agriculture and fisheries, business establishments, properties and public infrastructure. (The Inquirer)