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Which preposition is proper here?

The protagonist died at/in the ending of the story (or movie).

The antagonist was laughing loudly at/in the ending of the movie.

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They all mean different things. "At the end" is chronological: the protagonist died at the time the movie ended.

"In the ending" has to do with the plot. In the ending, the protagonist fought mightily to defeat Godzilla and lost. He went out in a blaze of glory, much to the amusement of Godzilla who laughed loudly.

Now, you might say that the audience laughed loudly at the ending because it was so ridiculous. (In this case, "laughing at" the ending has the same context as laughing at a joke.) On the other hand, if you were to say that the audience laughed loudly at the end of the movie, it could be for any reason, not necessarily having to do with the movie itself.

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The idiomatic phrase here is "at the end of" (note end rather than ending).

"In the ending" isn't incorrect; it's grammatical English. It's just not the most common way people refer to this.

As has been discussed in other questions, prepositions have myriad varied meanings and can be used in a lot of ways. Usually there is one option that is preferred as more idiomatic, but sometimes others could work just as well.

  • 1
    It may be just post factum reasoning, but I think there's some "logic" to the fact that we generally refer to the final scene as being at the end [of a movie] rather than in the end/ending. The "literal" roots of the preposition at lay in spatial metaphoric usage, which is more consistent with the idea that we've "moved" through the movie to arrive at the end. A movie ending has little meaning outside the context of what came before it, and I think at makes that "contextualising" allusion better than in. – FumbleFingers Aug 3 '13 at 20:14
  • Speaking of scene, is it at or in the opening/final/climactic scene? – Sherlock Aug 3 '13 at 20:47
  • @Sherlock: Most would say it like this: In the final scene at the end of the movie, we find out that the butler did it! – J.R. Aug 3 '13 at 22:37

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