make ends meet

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Unknown. Perhaps originally referred to the ends of rope meeting, signifying continuity and therefore security and stability. Perhaps shifting later to refer to the attempt at making money last from one pay period to the next (i.e. the ends), thereby leaving no gap or break in the availability of funds. Compare French joindre les deux bouts (literally join the two ends) with the same meaning. The form make both ends meet is attested from the 17th century, and was the more common form until the early-to-mid 20th century.


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make ends meet (third-person singular simple present makes ends meet, present participle making ends meet, simple past and past participle made ends meet)

  1. (idiomatic) To have enough money to cover expenses; to get by financially; to get through the pay period (sufficient to meet the next payday).
    • 1748, Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Roderick Random in The Miscellaneous works of Tobias Smollett, p. 18:
      ... a schoolmaster, whose income being small, he was fain to keep a glass of good liquor for the entertainment of passengers, by which he made shift to make the two ends of the year meet.
    • 1996, Chris Peters, Sudan: A Nation in the Balance, p. 42:
      Although most of the poor and displaced in Khartoum struggle to make ends meet, a very small number not only find work, but form small co-operatives.
    • 1997, Richard Ashcroft (lyrics and music), “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, performed by The Verve:
      'Cause it's a bitter sweet symphony that's life / Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to money then you die
    • 2007, Peter Geoffrey Hall, London Voices, London Lives, p. 269:
      Very many Londoners reported to us that they were struggling to make ends meet; that it was a constant battle to keep their heads above water, or that they had only just got into the position of being able to breathe freely.
    • 2009 Feb. 27, "Avarice and Audacity," The Guardian (UK):
      Barclays, which until now has made ends meet with costly loans from the Middle East rather than take public money, may soon join the queue for the emergency medicine too.
    • 2022 April 6, “Network News: Spring Statement: Sunak accused of making rail less competitive”, in RAIL, number 954, page 8:
      TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes was typically forthright in his criticism by claiming that Sunak had "blatantly failed" to cure "a growing tragedy", as "every single day, more and more families can't make ends meet".

Related terms[edit]



  • “"Making ends meet: Etymology of phrase"”, in (please provide the title of the work)[1], accessed 15 February 2009, archived from the original on 23 February 2009

Further reading[edit]

make ends meet, make both ends meet at Google Ngram Viewer