English learners commonly confuse the phrases “In the end” and “at the end”.
One great way to remember the difference between them is by remembering that the preposition at points to a particular position in time, place, or sequence. For example, the girl is at the dentists, or my friends are at the park.
Whereas in represents a situation where something is immersed, located or inside another thing. For example in the water, in the future, or the words in this article.
At The End
Synonym: lastly, finally.
At the end means the moment or place something stops or finishes. It’s commonly used as a “prepositional phrase” describing real endings.
- At the end of the street.
This sentence means that what we are talking about is located where the street finishes.
Tom: I need to buy some milk. Is there a shop nearby?
Sally: Yes, there’s a small supermarket at the end of the street.
Tom: Thanks, Sally!
- At the end of my to-do list.
This means that the item we are discussing is last on their to-do list.
Iron my shirt
Pay my bills
Do the dishes
Tom: I have to buy milk, iron my shirt, and then pay my bills. The dishes are at the end of my to-do list.
- At the end of my presentation.
This means that something happened when the presentation finished.
Sally: How was work today?
Tom: Great! My boss even complimented my English at the end of my presentation.
You can remember “at the end” as a pointer to a particular time and space. We use it in a similar way to when we would use prepositional phrases such as “at the beginning”. For example at the start of the story, or at the front of the house.
However, there is one time when at the end can indeed mean the same as “in the end.” The commonly used idiom “at the end of the day” has the similar meaning to “in the end”. At the end of the day means in conclusion, or the result is that…
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In The End
Synonym: Ultimately, after all.
In the end, is a commonly used English phrase which connects a statement of outcome or result to a previous story. It’s frequently used when talking about the final result after a series of changes, or complicated and confusing events.
- In the end, I had a steak.
This indicates that there was a choice to be made and that the result was a decision to get the blue item.
Jane: How was your birthday dinner last night?
Sarah: It was lovely! The restaurant we went to had so much to choose from on their menu, but in the end, I had a steak. It was delicious.
- In the end, I got it for free.
This indicates that the result of the story before this statement is that this person didn’t have to pay for the item they’re discussing.
Tom: I heard that you had a problem with the pizza delivery company last night?
John: Yes, I did! It took them two hours to deliver my pizza and even forgot to add extra pepperoni. I was so mad that I called the manager, and in the end, I got it for free.
When using the idiom “in the end” remember to follow it with a comma.
“In the end, we are all students of something.”
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A simple reminder when deciding between “In the end” and “at the end”:
If you’re talking about the end of a thing, time, or a physical place, use the prepositional phrase, “at the end“.
When wanting to conclude the outcome of a series of events, or provide a clear statement of a result, use the idiom “in the end.”
When we use at the end it refers to the moment when single event stops. Whereas, when we use in the end, we are referring to a sequence of events.
Take a look at the examples below:
- At the end of the school day, the students finished their work and tidied up the classroom.
- In the end, the students finished their work and tidied up the classroom.
The first example is referring to a specific event “the end of the school day”. This is a single event and is not referring to a series of events.
Whereas “in the end” in the second example is talking about a series of events. We don’t know what the series of events are but we can imagine that they school events such as correcting homework, completing assignment, talking to other students and so on.
“At the end of the school day” is only concerned with that particular part of the day, however “in the end” is addressing other events that occurred during the school day, before the end of the school day.