Q&A: Final vs finale

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, it's the final say on finale…

Q: Hi AWC, there have been a lot of series finales happening lately in TV land.

A: There have indeed.

Q: My question is what’s the difference between a “final” of something and a “finale”?

A: The E on the end.

Q: Oh hardy ha ha. I know that. There must be more to it.

A: We see it with Grand Final vs Grand Finale too.

Q: Yes!

A: Clearly some prefer to use the E and some don’t like it. There’s probably no point going into any detail about the word “final” – we’re all pretty familiar with that one.

Q: Could you go into just a teensy bit of detail?

A: Oh, okay. “Final” turned up on English’s doorstep in the early 1300s direct from Old French, as a lot of words were doing around then thanks to William the Conqueror's victory all the way back in the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

Q: Was that the one where he defeated Happy Healthy Harold the Giraffe?

A: Ummm, not sure a giraffe was involved, but King Harold II did stick his neck out thinking he could protect English from the Norman invasion.

Q: I thought you said his name was William. Who was Norman?

A: People who live in the French area of Normandy are called Normans!

Q: Ooooh, okay, got it. I never realised Norman Gunston was French…

A: Anyway, back to “final” – originally it just meant the last of something. It wasn’t until around 1880 that we got the sporting meaning of a “final”. And that’s where the Grand Finals through the years have come from.

Q: So what’s the difference with a “finale” then?

A: It’s much newer, turning up in the English language from Italian in 1724. Early on, it had strong musical connotations, and from the early 1800s on, “finale” began to be used in wider arts circles as a fancier way of indicating the end of something.

Q: So did “final” and “finale” come from the same place?

A: Yes, both were originally from the Latin “finalis” – meaning “to end”.

Q: Do they both mean the same thing?

A: Well, as a noun, they both essentially do – yet aren’t interchangeable. Also remember that “final” can also be an adjective, such as “the final countdown” whereas “finale” is only a noun.

Q: Okay, sure. But we still haven’t answered why some choose to call a “final” a “finale”…

A: It comes down to a sense of theatre. A “finale”, “grand finale” or “season finale” is typically reserved for the arts – and the very end of a performance of some kind, while a “final” is generally used in a more sporting/competitive context. So while you may have watched the final of Game of Thrones, it was also called the “series finale”.

Q: So it’s just a flourish?

A: Well sure, but many nouns could be described as such if you’re playing that game. And when you play the game of nouns, you win or you die.

Q: Spoilers!

A: Don’t lose your head, there’s nothing spoilery about that. Anyway, there are a few other meanings, such as in Britain, where “finals” are exams (“I’m studying for my finals”).

Q: So is it fair to say that a “finale” is a type of “final”?

A: Yes, that’s a better way to think of it. Both are talking about the end of something, but “finale” references the very end in a theatrical way. Picture feather boas.

Q: And sport is a no-go zone?

A: Well, to clarify – you can use it, but not generally in the name of the event. For example, “the Football World Cup Final was a fitting finale to this month-long tournament” etc.

Q: Got it! Thanks for giving us the final word on finale!

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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