And guess what happened in the end….?

In the end, At the end pic‘In the end’ vs ‘at the end’

I saw ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ for the first time recently. Have you seen it?  It’s a wonderful film, as the title suggests. It’s in black and white as it was made in 1946 and that adds to its charm. It’s a Christmas film really but for me it was heart-warming even with the 30 degree heat outside. It’s a story about the hardships of life and how the protagonist, George Bailey overcomes them. He gets the chance to see what life would be like if he had never existed and that gives him some perspective. The film highlights the importance of love in life, and despite all his problems, in the end everything turns out well for George.

Telling a friend about it yesterday made me think about the difference between ‘at the end’ and ‘in the end’ and how we use them in English. The two are easy to confuse and many learners do because the difference is subtle. I will do my best to make it simple.

‘In the end’ is the end-result of something that happened.  You can think of ‘in the end’ as meaning ‘ultimately’, ‘finally’ or ‘in the long run’. Below are a few more examples:

• He complained about the cold food and in the end he didn’t have to pay for it.
• We waited for two hours but in the end we had to go without her.
• We looked everywhere for somewhere to eat and in the end we found a lovely Italian restaurant.

 ‘At the end’ is a specific end and is usually followed by ‘of’. It could refer to a physical location, a metaphorical end, or the end of a period of time.  Here are some examples;

• There’s a shop at the end of my road. (physical)
You cannot say: there’s a shop in the end of my road
• At the end of the day, it’s his choice. (metaphorical)
You cannot say, in the end of the day, it’s his choice
• I’m going on holiday at the end of the month. (time)
You cannot say I’m going on holiday in the end of the month

When you talk about the end of a film, you could use either ‘at the end’ or ‘in the end’ because it is both the end result of something that happened (the story) AND the end of a period of time (the duration of the film). So I could use either of these phrases:

• And in the end, everything turns out well for George.
• At the end of the film, everything turns out well for George.

I hope that helps, and I highly recommend watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ when you get the chance!

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