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I have up till now used both endlich and schließlich to mean "finally" but I'm suspicious there is a subtle difference in meaning.

Can anyone please clarify?

For example if I want to say:

I have finally won the gold medal I've been trying so hard to win.

or

The movie is finally over.

Is there any difference?

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3  
When in doubt, use "schlußendlich" :) –  Ingo Jan 19 at 12:25
1  
@Ingo, ausgerechnet in diesem Wort ein ß zu benutzen, erscheint mir fragwürdig. –  Carsten Schultz Jan 19 at 13:01
    
@CarstenSchultz Jetzt, wo du es sagst ... in der Tat! Ist halt eingedeutscht :) –  Ingo Jan 19 at 13:03
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the answers are quite good, so I'll just add here what I think might help... "endlich" is somewhat close to "at long last, at length"."Schließlich" is more like "and finally" or "ultimately". –  Emanuel Jan 19 at 20:58

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Schließlich

Is used to denote the (perceived or planned) ending of a (long) process.

Schließlich kam Sam wieder im Auenland an.

Endlich

Is used to denote the occurence of a (long) awaited event. There is no information about repetitions or the ongoingness afterwards.

Endlich hat Sam Rosie zum Tanzen aufgefordert.

Your examples

I have finally won the gold medal I've been trying so hard to win.

Both translations are possible, depending on what you want to express.

  • If you want to express, that after maybe several failed attempts, you managed to win your first gold medal (of this kind) you should use endlich. Maybe your career continued and you won several more gold medals.
  • If you want to express, that a long career or hard season concludes with the winning of this gold medal, you should use schließlich. Your career or at least the season are finished afterwards.

The movie is finally over.

Again, both translations are possible:

  • If you want to express, that you have waited for the ending (maybe because it was such a bad or boring movie), you should use endlich.
  • If you want to express, that being over is an essential part of the movie, you should use schließlich. Think of a narrator in a parody, who doesn't narrate a story but the movie itself.
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+1 for LotR reference :) –  fifaltra Jan 20 at 18:45

There is a notable difference. In both your examples, I would use "endlich". You use "endlich" when you couldn't wait for something. The emphasis is on the fact that you had to wait too long for it.

Endlich ist Wochenende!

Es klingelt. Das muß Thomas sein. Na endlich!

The word "schließlich" can be used if you describe an event when the emphasis is on the completion of some process and the outcome was not predictable. Yet, "endlich" kann still be used in place of it.

Ich habe lange überlegt, welches Auto ich mir kaufe. Schließlich/Endlich entschied ich mich für XYZ.

In the preceding sentence, "schließlich" is IMHO better, because the duration of the decision process was determined only by yourself, and there was no waiting. But in your example with the gold medal, "endlich" seems better, because external factors influenced the long waiting time.

Note that both words have further meanings that have nothing to do with what we have told about: "endlich" can mean "finite" like in:

Die Menge der geraden Primzahlen ist endlich.

and "schließlich" can mean something like "after all":

Wir könnten mal ausschlafen. Schließlich ist Wochenende.

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Der (klischeehaft männliche) Autokäufer würde wohl kaum sagen: Endlich entschied ich mich für XYZ. Es wäre wohl eher dessen (klischeehafte) Ehefrau, die eigenlich schon lange das Mittagessen fertig haben wollte und die ganze gewartet hat, bis Ehemann sich endlich entschieden hat. –  Toscho Jan 19 at 16:28
    
Keinen Sexismus hier, bitte @Toscho ;-) –  Ingo Jan 19 at 21:19
    
Deswegen ja auch der Hinweis aufs Klischee. –  Toscho Jan 20 at 17:40

You will use "endlich" if impatience plays a role. If impatience doesn't play a role, you will just use "schließlich".

Example: You have waited a long time for your brother Jack to visit you, then you can say:

Endlich bist Du gekommen!

You can also say "Na endlich!". There is NO "Na schließlich!"

"Schließlich" is a short form of "...zu dem Schluss gekommen...", something that is a conclusion and mustn't - as said before - have to do something with impatience. "Auf etwas schließen" or "Zu dem Schluß kommen" e. g. "schließlich" is a consequence of something that is logically true compared to the subject.

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shouldn't it be needn't (= muss nicht) instead of mustn't (= darf nicht)? I'm not editing, because that would change the meaning, but I suspect that is what you would mean. –  fifaltra Jan 20 at 14:19
    
with mustn't i meant "must not". i bet need not or needn't is ok as well. –  brighty Jan 21 at 15:49

"Schließlich" refers to the closing of an event. Schließen: to close (or finish).

"Endlich" refers to an endpoint (in time). It has the connotation of "finally."

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