Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

English is not my native language and I'm struggling to get the meanings of:

  1. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  2. It is more of a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

I'd highly appreciate if someone explain the meanings of these two sentences to me. Thanks

share|improve this question

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt Jul 25 '13 at 15:48

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: List of general references" – FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Did you look up means and end in a dictionary? We don't mind helping if a definition is difficult to understand, but would rather not be used as a substitute for research. – TimLymington Jul 25 '13 at 15:10
Might be more appropriate on philosophy.SE – Mitch Jul 25 '13 at 15:53
@Mitch Philosophy if the OP was a native speaker. Clearly this is the case for ELL to handle. – Mari-Lou A Jul 25 '13 at 15:59

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

An "end" or "end in itself" is the end result, the ultimate goal, the final conclusion. A "means to an end", therefore, is a way of getting to a given goal.

So for example, if I want to lose ten pounds, I might start running to lose weight. For me, running is a means (the very act of running) to an end (losing the weight). I could also start dieting; I don't want to eat less but it is a means to an end. If, however, I actually like running, the act of running is itself the end, so the expression would not be appropriate.

A related expression is "The ends justify the means." This phrase is used when the end result justifies whatever action was used to get there. The main character in a movie who wants to avenge a murdered loved one might go on a killing rampage to get at the murderer, and you might say that for her, the ends justified the means.

share|improve this answer

The idiom "A means to an end" differentiates between an end goal and the means or methods and actions used to reach that goal.

If I wanted to get a job, a means to that end might be writing my resume. When I found a job my end would be achieved, the goal I had in mind. But the end was never to write myself a good resume, that was only a means to the end, getting a job.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.