INFINE, FINALMENTE, ALLA FINE: What’s the difference? What do they mean?

Alla fine, infine e finalmente: these three expressions are often a problem for those studying Italian, because they don’t seem to be able to use them correctly. All three expressions contain the word “fine” or its lexical root, but in most cases, they are not interchangeable, because they can have completely different meanings. For this reason, in this lesson we are going to talk about their uses, the difference between them and in which context they shall be used.


1. Alla fine (At the end/in the end)

It is used to indicate that something happens, indeed, “at the end”, “as the last thing”, after a series of events or after some time.
When this expression is accompanied by a  genitive case, which tells us  “at the end of what”, then it refers to a specific event at the end of which something happened.

For example:

  • Alla fine della lezione tutti gli studenti si sono alzati e sono usciti dalla classe. (At the end of the lesson, all the students stood up and got out of the classroom.)
  • Ammetto di aver pianto un pochino alla fine del film: era molto commovente. (I admit I cried a little at the end of the movie: it was really touching.)

Sometimes the genitive case can be simply implied.

  • Com’è finita la partita? Mi sono persa l’ultimo pezzo. (How did the game end up? I missed the last bit.)
  •  Alla fine (della partita) ha vinto la Roma con un gol dell’ultimo minuto. (At the end (of the game), Roma won with a last-minute goal!)

Here it’s clear that the “end” we are talking about is the end of the game.

In some cases it’s possible to use the expression “alla fine” without referring to a specific event. For instance, it’s pretty common to use it when we meet someone after some time and we want updates on something:

  • Alla fine sei riuscito a laurearti? (Did you manage to graduate in the end?)
  • No, mi mancano ancora 2 esami. E tu? Alla fine ti sei sposato? ( No, I still have two exams to go. What about you? Did you get married in the end?)

As you can see, in in this case there is no explicit or implied  genitive case, to which the word “fine” refers. Therefore “alla fine” means “the time that has passed since the last time we talked about it…?”. Let’s see another example:

  • Mi dispiace di non essere potuto venire alla tua festa. Alla fine ho dovuto lavorare tutto il giorno. (I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your party. In the end, I had to work all day.)

Even in this case, the meaning of the sentence is “the moment in which the party was taking place…?”.

Attention not to confuse “alla fine” with the expression “alla fin fine”(all things considered), which is a synonym for “in fin dei conti”(after all): these two expressions indicate that, at the end of the day, something was not exactly as expected or as planned. For example:

  • Siamo andati a cena da lui per provare il suo famoso risotto ai funghi: alla fin fine non era poi un granché. (We had dinner at his place to try his famous mushroom risotto: it wasn’t that great after all.)
  • Ero molto preoccupata per l’esame, ma in fin dei conti non era così difficile. (I was really worried about the exam, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t that difficult.)

2. Infine (in the end/eventually/in conclusion/lastly…)

It’s an adverb that can mainly have two meanings:

• In the first case, it can be used as a  synonym for “alla fine”, but in a higher register.

For example:

  • Lo interrogarono per ore, e infine confessò tutto. (They questioned him for hours and he eventually confessed to everything.)

This use of “infine” is undoubtedly rarer, especially in everyday spoken language.

The most common use instead, is that of “infine” as a synonym of “in conclusione”( in conclusion). It is usually used to start the last paragraph of a chapter, a story or every written text  with a conclusion. For example, in a recipe, after having listed all the necessary steps to follow, it could be possible to find:

  • Infine, spolverizzate il dolce con lo zucchero di canna e infornate a 180°C per 30 minuti. (Lastly, sprinkle the cake with brown sugar and bake at 180° for 30 minutes.)

3. Finalmente (Finally, at last)

It is an adverb with various meanings:

– In the first case, it can be used as a synonym for “infine” or “alla fine”, but this use is  pretty uncommon. For instance:

  • Da giovane ho lavorato come cameriere, poi come imbianchino e infine / alla fine / finalmente come autista. (When I was young I worked as a waiter, as a painter and  lastly/eventually/finally as a driver.)

In this specific case, “finalmente” is the most uncommon one.

– In the second case, “finalmente” is used to indicate that something you have been waiting for, is finally happening. For example:

  • Le ho chiesto mille volte di riportarmi il quaderno. Finalmente ieri me lo ha ridato. ( I’ve asked her a thousand times to give me back my notebook. Yesterday, she finally gave it back to me.)
  • Dopo anni di convivenza, finalmente ci siamo sposati. ( After years of living together, we finally got married.)
  • Sono mesi che sento parlare di te: finalmente ci incontriamo! (I’ve been hearing about you for months, we meet at last!)

“Finalmente” is also used alone, to express satisfaction when something is becoming true.

For example:

  • Ho convinto mia madre a comprarmi una macchina nuova!  (I convinced my mom to buy me a new car!)
  • Finalmente! (Finally!)

As you may have noticed, there are some cases, even if they’re uncommon, in which the three expressions are interchangeable; however, it’s important to underline that in spoken language, in most cases, they have three different meanings, therefore it’s extremely important to use them correctly.

If you liked this lesson and you would like to broaden your Italian vocabulary, then go watch the lesson about all the Italian alternatives to the word “CIRCA”.

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

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