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我明天开始放寒假。

My understanding of 放 is 'start', but in the above sentence 开始 means 'start', so what does 放 mean here? Thank you!

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The basic meaning of 放 is 'to release'

  • 假 means 'be released (from job or school) for day off, vacation or holiday"

  • 寒假 means 'be released (from school) for Winter holiday'

Working men don't have Winter holiday, they have "新年假期/ 年假" (new year holiday)

  • 放大假 = be released (from a job) for vacation

Similarly:

放工 = be released (from a work day) = finish a work day and be let go = 'quit time'

放学 = be released (from a school day) = finish a school day and be let go = 'school out'

放监 = be released (from jail) = finish jail sentence and be let free

开始 means 'start', so what does 放 mean here?

As stated above '放' doesn't mean 'start'. If you are in the middle of Winter Holiday, you are "正在放寒假"

开始(放)寒假 means 'start (being released from school for) Winter holiday' = 'start (having) Winter holiday'

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