The difference between 终于 (zhōngyú) and 最后 (zuìhòu) in Mandarin Chinese: 'finally' vs 'the last'
The words 终于 (zhōngyú) and 最后 (zuìhòu) in Chinese can be difficult for beginners to distinguish, because both of them can mean “finally” or “in the end”. Remember that there is a lot of overlap between these words: they are not totally separate in meaning.
However, there is some difference between the two. The key difference is that 终于 puts more emphasis on “finally” as in “the work is finally done”, whilst 最后 is simply “the last” or “in the end”. Let's have a look at each word in turn.
终于 (zhōngyú): finally, at last
The word 终于 has a close range of meanings: “at last, in the end, finally, eventually”. 终于 can be used to emphasise that a lot of time has passed or a lot of effort has been expended, and something is finally done.
At long last, this thing has been done, and it wasn't easy, or it took ages. Because of this, 终于 sometimes implies that what happened was desirable or wanted.
Let's have a look at some example sentences for 终于:
As you can see, in each of those situations, something has finally happened that seemed to take a lot of effort or time.
Remember, though, that 终于 isn't totally distinct from 最后, as it can also mean “at last” or “in the end”, and be used to talk about neutral or bad things happening:
This is very similar to the words “finally” and “at last” in English. They are slightly distinct, but there is also a lot of overlap between the two words.
最后 (zuìhòu): the last, in the end
The word 最后 has meanings like “final, last, finally, ultimate”. As mentioned above, there's clearly a lot of overlap with 终于.
The difference, though, is that 最后 is usually neutral compared to 终于. It simply states that something happened last or in the end, but doesn't necessarily imply that it took a long time or a lot of effort. It was just the final thing that happened.
Hopefully you can see that whilst 最后 also means “finally” or “in the end”, it doesn't have the implication that this was the result of a long wait or a lot of effort like 终于 does.
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