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A comparative study of the semantics and pragmatics of enfin and finalement, in synchrony and diachrony

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 August 2005

Department of English, Germanic, and Romance Studies, University of Copenhagen, Njalsgade 128, build. 24, DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark e-mail:


This article compares and contrasts two related adverbs, enfin and finalement, in synchrony and diachrony. Both are polysemous in contemporary French, and largely intersubstitutable in many contexts. However, the functional range of enfin is much greater than that of finalement. Evidence is presented for the existence of a division of labour, such that speakers seem to favour finalement for more ‘literal’ functions, i.e. for the expression of temporal sequence, whereas enfin is preferred for more abstract, non-propositional functions. This is attributed to the respective formal properties and degree of grammaticalisation of the two expressions, which can also explain why enfin has developed a vastly greater range of abstract, non-propositional functions than finalement. The argument is supported by diachronic evidence that the functional extension of enfin has gone hand in hand with significant changes in the formal status of the expression, while functional extension of finalement stops at approximately the time when enfin begins to expand its range.

Research Article
2005 Cambridge University Press

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I wish to thank Lene Schøsler for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Needless to say, she is not responsible for any shortcomings that may remain.