Difference Between Onset and Outset

Main Difference – Onset vs Outset

Onset and Outset are two nouns that refer to the beginning or start something. Although these two nouns have similar meanings, they are used in different situations. Outset is usually used when the action or event that is described has already started. Onset is usually used to indicate an unpleasant event or action. This is the main difference between onset and outset.Difference Between Onset and Outset - infographic

Onset – Definition, Meaning and Usage

Onset refers to the start or beginning of something. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary indicates that onset is synonymous with commencement and beginning. Oxford Dictionary, however, uses the following definition:

“The beginning of something, especially something unpleasant.”

This definition implies that onset is used to describe something unpleasant. Let’s look at some example sentences containing this noun to see whether this claim is true.

Sneezing indicates the onset of a cold.

The oil prices have soared with the onset of war.

The onset of the cold winter may bring more deaths.

We have to collect necessary supplies before the onset of the winter.

He struggled to resist the creeping onset of fear.

In the above sentences, you will observe that onset is always followed by the preposition of. As its definition suggests, this noun is mostly used to indicate an unpleasant event.

Onset also has the meaning attack or assault although this meaning is not commonly used today. Perhaps the negative connotations of onset are derived from this secondary meaning of the word.

Difference Between Onset and Outset

Sneezing might indicate the onset of a cold.

Outset – Meaning and Usage

Both Oxford Dictionary and Merriam-Webster defines outset as the beginning or start of something. American Heritage Dictionary specifically states that outset refers to the initial stage of something. Let’s look at some example sentences to understand the usage of this more clearly.

The project was doomed from the outset.

I made it very clear from the outset that I don’t agree with their idea. 

To have walked away would have felt like admitting defeat.

There have been problems between them from the very outset.

At the outset, he agreed to demands, but he changed his mind after Malisons came forward with their proposal.

In these examples, you will notice that outset is either preceded by the preposition from or at. All these sentences refer back to the past; the event or action described in the sentence has already been started. Therefore, we can deduce that outset is usually used with actions and events that have already started.

Main Difference - Onset vs Outset

I told you from the very outset that he is going to win.

Difference Between Onset and Outset


Onset refers to the start or beginning of something.

Outset refers to the beginning or initial stages of something.


Onset implies something unpleasant or negative.

Outset does not have negative connotations.


Onset is followed by the preposition of.

Outset is preceded by prepositions from or at.


Onset can be used to talk about the beginning of future events as well.

Outset is usually used to refer to the beginning of past events.

Image Courtesy:

“Sneeze”  by  via

“Image 2″ (Pubic Domain) via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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