• Alex

"In the end" vs. "At the end": What's the difference?

Updated: Mar 26

A single word can change the meaning and usage of a phrase. This is the case with "in the end" and "at the end." Let's look at the general differences between these phrases, and then look at them one at a time. Please, take a seat and let's discuss some grammar that will make your English conversations more comfortable.

Quick definitions

“in the end” = after everything happens, is considered, or decided; in the final outcome or estimation

“at the end” = the point where something ends; in the final moments

in the end

meaning: eventually; after everything is considered or decided, or after everything happens; in the final moment of decision or in the final result; in the final estimation or outcome

“People will always demand your time and energy, but in the end, you have to decide what is best for yourself.”

“We thought about going to see a movie, but in the end, we decided to stay at home because of the weather.”

“We had many paint colours to choose from. We chose grey in the end.”

"I hope things will turn out well in the end."

"In the end, it doesn't matter."

"I remember you were considering a couple of different options. What did you decide to do in the end?"

This phrase is often used to discuss final decisions, opinions, happenings, results, or estimations. In short, the final outcome. To understand this phrase a little more, it can help to ask yourself the question "What happened after everything?"

Here are two more examples: “I wanted to play Monopoly, but my sister wanted to play chess. In the end, we played chess.” (final decision) “In the end, he was the best friend I had ever had.” (in the final result or personal estimation) Two very common sentences with this phrase are “It is/was (not) worth it in the end” and “It doesn’t/didn’t matter in the end.” (If something is “worth it,” it is beneficial or positive enough that you are willing to spend a certain amount of time, money, energy, etc. on it.)

common sentence: “It turned out well in the end.” (After everything happened or was decided, the final result was positive. This could refer to almost anything, such as an event, a project, a process, a new cooking recipe you have tried, an essay, etc.)

at the end

meaning: the point where something ends (a day, a movie, a conversation, etc.)

common variations: “at the very end,” “right at the end”

“She lives at the end of the street.”

“I’m almost at the end of the book.”

“Have you finished the series?” “Not yet, but I’m right at the end.”

"I'll call you at the end of the day."

"Do you pay your phone bill at the beginning or at the end of the month?"

"At the very end of the year, the company gives its employees a bonus."

common sentence: “I’m almost at the end.” (I have almost finished the book/movie/series/email/article/game/etc.)

Whether it’s the end of a conversation, a news article, a movie, or anything else, “at the end” refers to the specific point where something finishes. Here are a few examples: “They both work and only see each other at the end of the day.” “At the end of the flight, I felt really dizzy.” “I’m at the very end of the novel. I can’t wait to see how it finishes!” This can also refer to a physical location, as in “The coffee shop is at the end of the street.”

Note these examples for “at the end”: “The main character dies at the end (of the book/movie/story/etc.).” “I quit my job at the end of high school.” “They live at the end of the street.” “We’re almost at the end of the episode. There are only 5 minutes left.”

Seeing the difference

In some cases, both phrases are possible, but there is a subtle difference in meaning. For example, imagine you are discussing the death of a character in a book or film. The sentences “He dies at the end” and “He dies in the end” have slightly different meanings. “He dies at the end” means he dies in the final moments of the story–not at the beginning or in the middle, but at the end. “He dies in the end” means he dies after everything happens. This is the final outcome for the character.

In the end, I hope this article has helped you to gain a better understanding of these two common phrases. I am now at the end of this post, so I will stop here and wish you luck with your studies!

(If you enjoyed this article, these two phrases will be covered in my next book. Stay tuned!)

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