As per title of the question, I see this a lot.

"We will release the product when issue 51 has been finalized." "We are waiting for it to be finalized."

Is this just a case of people trying to sound professional with corporate jargon , or is there a real difference between 'finish' and 'finalize'?

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    Speaking as a software developer, nothing is ever truly finished to the point where there’s no more work to do; there are always features to add or bugs to fix.
    – John Bode
    Oct 4, 2018 at 12:16
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    @JohnBode Exactly, we don't finish anything, but we can point to one version being the final (last) one that will be produced. Oct 4, 2018 at 14:17
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    It's always a safe starting hypothesis that such things are an attempt by the writer/speaker to sound smarter than they really are. I find the similar pair "utilize" instead of "use" to be precisely that, 99% of the time. In that last 1% there are shades of meaning that "utilize" properly conveys that "use" does not; the answers here are about that last 1%, not the 99% who probably couldn't explain a difference between "finalize" and "finish" if you asked them. Oct 4, 2018 at 14:44
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    finalize is also a function/method in some languages (e.g., Java) that indicates an object is no longer in use. It's possible that it might have crept into wider usage by technical folk due to that. Oct 4, 2018 at 15:41
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    @JohnBode You surely meant features to fix and bugs to add, right?
    – Bakabaka
    Oct 5, 2018 at 9:22

6 Answers 6


The definitions of finalise and finish are pretty similar, with finalise referring to the production of, or agreement on, the finished version.

The single word finalise carries the connotation of just the last bit, whereas finish needs helper words to carry that connotation (e.g. finish off, finish up). Saying that something is finished can also carry the unwanted sense that it is done for, that is, that it is of no further use; finalise doesn't carry that unwanted sense.

In commerce (including the fields of software engineering and management that you specifically referenced), completion isn't always enough. The customer wants confirmation of completion. Transacting parties want the signed agreement that follows the completion of negotiations, or the invoicing and payment that follow the completion of work. So it isn't enough that the work is finished (even in the positive sense); it needs to be finalised.

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    Oooh. That's fascinating. The 'done for' connotation didn't even occur to me.
    – Sentinel
    Oct 4, 2018 at 11:25
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    +1 Finalization is also a word. Oct 4, 2018 at 14:43
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    As a native AmE speaker and a programmer, I also perceive another difference in connotation or referent. "Finalize" often refers to things like plans. Work begins when plans are finalized. To say that a plan is "finished" might suggest that the work is done. Oct 4, 2018 at 19:31
  • When a ship or airplane is built, there are "acceptance trials" performed by the buyer, generally with manufacturer representation on hand to document (and where possible correct) all deficiencies. Those deficiencies are checked off, and additional trials performed, and eventually the vessel gets a clean trial and is formally accepted by the buyer. Prior to that, the manufacturer still owns it, in every sense of the word. Oct 4, 2018 at 22:31
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    In programming, as well, sometimes you have to call it done and kick it out the door even if there is more work that could be done to improve things. "finalize" carries the connotation that it is the point where someone drew a line and said "we're stopping here, at least for now, and tossing out a release" rather than the point when all possible applicable work had been competed.
    – Ben Barden
    Oct 5, 2018 at 14:29

"Finished" refers to an activity or action. You've finished doing something.

But "finalised" refers to the state of an object to which all pending modifications have been applied, and no more are necessary/permitted.

So strictly speaking it does not make sense for a thing to be finished, though admittedly in English we do sometimes use "I have finished [X]" to mean "I have finished creating [X]", if only colloquially. Similarly, "[X] is finished" might informally mean "the creator of [X] has finished their task".

I can't speak for other professions, but in software engineering I guess we try to avoid such ambiguities, at least when constructing programming languages with keywords like Finalize.


I suppose they would argue that one finishes something of a fixed and prescribed nature - such as a 100 metre race.

But where the nature of the task is indeterminable at the outset and could take unexpected twists and turns, such as designing some new software, then it becomes inappropriate to talk of "finishing".

What, someone might ask, do you mean by "finishing"?

Finalise carries the sense of something being declared ended.

However, I also feel there may be an element of that which you refer to in the question - "finalise" sounds more managerially sophisticated than plain old "finish".

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    That's also a very good point. Finalising could mean "declared done" according to some kind of consensus.
    – Sentinel
    Oct 4, 2018 at 11:27

As a software developer, I find that we use "finalized" to mean fully defined and agreed upon/signed off, not to mean implemented.

"Done" has come into vogue with agile/scrum. See 'definition of "done"'.

And I don't really hear "finished" as in "x is finished", only in the informal "have you finished x yet?".

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    The OP cites two different contexts: software engineering and management. I have been fascinated by the responses here of the software engineers. Fair enough! But outside that profession, 'finalise' tends to be good old-fashioned management-speak, high-flown words used with the intention of showing that the user is more intelligent than he really is, and hence has none of the sophistication claimed by the software engineers.
    – JeremyC
    Oct 4, 2018 at 21:49
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    What is being "finalized" in this context is the specification of what the final product's features should be. It is at this point that the work of actually realizing that product begins. Oct 4, 2018 at 22:27

"finishing" means reaching the end of some process, "finalizing" means declaring the end of some process. After finishing, nothing needs to be done any more, after finalizing, nothing is to be done any more.

Finishing a specification means ending the process of drafting it, finalizing a specification means ending the process of refining it into a state fit for formal adoption.


Work/Products gets "finished" - Projects get "finalized"

Finalized is not a synonym "finished" with different connotations. The words refer to related but distinct things.

For example, consider a project to create a software application:

The developers do their work, until they are "finished."

Then various other defined tasks within the project are done (testing, user acceptance, management sign-off, etc.). When all the required steps are complete, the project is "finalized."

Then imagine a serious flaw is discovered. It is clear that there is work to be done - the product is not "finished." But the project has been "finalized" - that does not change. (And the work to fix the flaw will probably be part of a new project.)

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