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While reviewing my 漢字, I noticed that for "last", I have (at least) two words, either 最後{さいご} or 最終{さいしゅう}. I was wondering, is there any difference in usage, or can I use them equivalently?

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最: most; extreme

後: later; latter

終: end

最後 is used as a noun or a の-adjective. (e.g. 列の最後, 最後の晩餐) In the form of Verb+が/たら+最後, it means once (e.g. 彼は外に出たが最後... Once he goes out...)

最終 is used as an adjective right before noun. (e.g. 最終列車, 最終的)

When they are adjectives, they are usually interchangeable. (e.g. 最後のバス is interchangeable with 最終バス)
However, while 最終 means to just happen after all other things, 最後 often implies that it is the end of things and that it will never happen again. For example, 最終試合 is just a last game of championships on which someone will be a champion; 最後の試合 is the final game for someone.

  • I've heard 最終 is more "the latest", while 最後 is "the final". Any truth to that? – obskyr Jun 27 '17 at 12:09
  • @obskyr Yes. 最終 means to just come after all other things, yet 最後 implies that it is the end of things and that it will never happen again. – Dim Jun 27 '17 at 12:31
  • I think that's an integral part of the answer! :O – obskyr Jun 27 '17 at 12:33

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