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Here, 一 should not be parsed by itself, but instead put together with 开始 to form the phrase 一开始, which means "at the beginning" or "initially". So the correct translation would be: 事情一开始进展得很顺利,但后来我们遇到了困难 At the beginning, everything was going smoothly, but later we encountered difficulties. Here are some more examples: 一开始,我不喜欢她。后来,我爱上了她。 At the ...


I somehow feel 一开始 is a bit earlier than if you use 开始 in term of time in the example "事情一开始进展得很顺利,但后来我们遇到了困难". So I tend to translate 一开始 as "at the very beginning" vs "at the beginning".


I tend to understand 一开始 as a whole, which means "at the beginning". You can omit the 一 in most situations without changing the meaning much. However, adding 一 (which alone could be interpreted as "once" or "as soon as") puts an emphasis on “beginning”, giving a hint that the speaker might later want to compare it with how things are like " in the end", or ...

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