I was writing a question on Security.SE and couldn't figure out which pronoun was actually correct in the sentence:

This [process] always ends with/in a phone call.

The intended meaning is that because of certain policies, the end result of a process is a phone call (to me).

Which preposition is correct here, and why? If they are interchangeable, why?

PS - I'm asking on ELL.SE because I would like to know how to explain this to my French ELL students in the future. Prepositions are notoriously difficult to explain...

2 Answers 2


"Ends with" is usually used when you are pointing to a known or expected conclusion to something, and the ending is normally part of the subject, for example:

  • The show ended with a song.
  • The story ended with a twist.

The song is part of the show, and the twist is part of the story. This ngram supports this.

"Ends in" is normally used when pointing to the result of something, for example:

  • The day ended in tears
  • The marriage ended in divorce

These are not expected endings, nor part of the subject. This ngram supports this.

For this reason, I think your example requires "with":

This process always ends with a phone call.

The call is expected, and is part of the process.


Yes, it is rather difficult to give definitive answers on prepositions. The answer is generally what everyone habitually uses in a particular context rather than a clear set of rules, and the habit change over time too.

Personally I would say 'ends with a phone call', and that most things are ..'with' a phone call or 'by' a phone call. E.g. Solved with a phone call, Ordered with a phone call, etc.

'In' a phone call fits better when it's something that happened during that call eg. 'I asked in a phone call', as opposed to something which results with or was a result of, a phone call. However some people would indeed say ends in a phone call, so it's not wrong really, and probably more a case of local variations of English usage.

I hope these examples give you an idea of how those prepositions commonly used, which is the probably the best way to explain them - empirically.

  • My first thought was if I hear that something always ends in X, my default assumption would be to interpret it through the "lens" of Y always ends up in X (and It'll all end in tears, obviously) - which particular construction I strongly associate with contexts where that means action Y is futile, since it always results in the undesirable end state X. Aug 16, 2018 at 17:52
  • And I suppose there's certain amount of contextual influence as to whether there's a correlation, or a cause and effect relationship. Does an evening end with dinner, or end in dinner? Tears and disasters usually being an effect, where as dinner and phone calls more of a correlation? Aug 16, 2018 at 18:10

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