Empezó contando un chiste.

English Translation

He began with a joke.

Why wouldn’t this be “He started telling a joke”?

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Your translation is better.

What happened is originally the English sentence was translated into the Spanish sentence (on Tatoeba). The Spanish translation carries the same meaning, but it’s not an exact translation. Now you’re seeing the order reversed, and it looks a bit off.

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I would say it’s closest to “He began by telling a joke”. I wonder if you are being influenced by English, where “begin to do” and “begin doing” are interchangeable.

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