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In conversation, I used « finir par » to express the idea of "(unwittingly) end up doing something":

En t'inscrivant totalement en faux contre tout ça, tu as sûrement fini par le convaincre qu'il y avait un brin de vérité là-dedans !

Then, a colleague of mine (a native French speaker from Switzerland) pointed out that I could have used « finir de » as well, which ... had me puzzled:

En t'inscrivant totalement en faux contre tout ça, tu as sûrement fini de le convaincre qu'il y avait un brin de vérité là-dedans !

The locution « finir de », to my mind, denotes the act of finishing something, getting it over with, and should be distinguished from « finir par ». So I wonder if « finir de » too is commonly used like this as an equivalent of « finir par »?

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    Finir de and finir par have entirely different meanings. You were right. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous May 7 '17 at 11:37
  • Your mention of “unwittingly” tempts me to interpret your original sentence as meaning: “By objecting to/denying it so vehemently, you surely made him think ‘he doth protest too much,’ thereby (unwittingly) convincing him that there must be at least a little truth to it.” IF my interpretation has any merit, then MAYBE your colleague simply misinterpreted what you were after (by missing the “unwittingly” nuance) as: “By presenting such a great case against it, you surely sealed the deal & convinced him (as intended) that there’s no more than a little (little or no) truth to it.” – Papa Poule May 7 '17 at 14:25
  • @PapaPoule Hi. Precisely. The fierce denial backfired on her, arousing unwanted suspicion rather than warding it off. ;) – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens May 7 '17 at 14:53
  • This is very simple: finir par [faire quelque chose] is to end up doing something. finir de faire quelque chose is to finish doing something. I don't see the issue here at all. – Lambie May 8 '17 at 22:44
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Si nous regardons la définition dans le TLF :

Finir de : Terminer une action entreprise, la conduire à sa fin.

Nous avons enfin fini de construire notre maison, ça nous a pris 4 ans.

Finir par : En arriver à, en venir à.

À force de subir les nuisances de la vie en HLM nous avons fini par nous décider à construire notre maison à la campagne.

En t'inscrivant totalement en faux contre tout ça, tu as sûrement fini par le convaincre qu'il y avait un brin de vérité là-dedans !

→ S'inscrire en faux contre tout ça est l'argument décisif qui lui a fait changé d'avis.

En t'inscrivant totalement en faux contre tout ça, tu as sûrement fini de le convaincre qu'il y avait un brin de vérité là-dedans !

→ Il était déjà convaincu mais en t'inscrivant en faux tu as renforcé son opinion.

Je doute que finir de et finir par aient des sens différents en suisse ou d'autres partie de la francophonie, on emploie des prépositions qui ont quand même des sens bien différents.

  • finir par: to end up doing something; finir de; to finish or end something. Of course, you can say that finir par comprendre is I finally understood. But not always: J'ai fini par lui dire que je n'étais pas d'accord avec lui: I ended up telling him I disagreed with him. – Lambie May 8 '17 at 22:46
  • Hi. I've been trying to find a justification for using "finir de" in this context. What do you think of the following interpretation? ;) – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens May 9 '17 at 10:16
  • The person in question had been suspecting all along that there might be some truth to the affair, and then my colleague's strong denial served as the coup de grâce, finally convincing him of it without a shadow of a doubt. So in a sense, the denial served to finish all the conving&convinced process. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens May 9 '17 at 10:18
  • @Alone-zee You've got it, that's exactly what I meant in : "Il était déjà convaincu mais en t'inscrivant en faux tu as renforcé son opinion. And whether your colleague was right or not in her/his use of the finir par depends on the guy's state of mind all along. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous May 9 '17 at 10:26
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I disagree with the Swiss colleague, and I don't think it's only a matter of regional difference. "finir par" is used exactly as you defined it, you more or less explore different avenues and end up doing something, more or less voluntarily. On the other hand, "finir de" implies that you're done/finished with something. As in "tu as bientot fini de me taper sur les nerfs?". The Swiss-revised sentence above would mean something closer to "you have totally finished convincing him" rather than 'you (somehow) ended up convincing him".

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