A means to an end

A means to an end is an idiom with an uncertain origin. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase a means to an end, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

A means to an end refers to an action or strategy that is a method to achieve a higher goal. The means in this phrase is something that is not, in itself, valued; however, it must be accomplished or endured to achieve a larger goal. For instance, you may not enjoy going to lunch with your boss, but this action will ingratiate you to him and lead to a promotion. In this case, going to lunch with your boss is a means to an end. The expression a means to an end seems to have arisen sometime in the mid-1800s, though its origin is uncertain. It may be a rephrasing of the proverb, the end justifies the means.

Examples

“It’s a means to an end to get our Police Department back.” (The Albuquerque Journal)

Profit should be pereceived as a means to an end rather than the end itself. (Forbes)

An MBA is something that shouldn’t just be considered as a means to an end, or as a qualification that won’t give you a return for all the hard work you put in. (The Apopka Voice)

“Financial inclusion is not the objective; just getting that—included—is not the objective, it’s really that we are able to access financial services for our good, for us to achieve our financial objectives toward improving the quality of our lives for small businesses to be able to use financing for it to grow and generate jobs, but for the agriculture sector to be able to access financing to increase productivity so it’s really a means to an end,” she said. (The Business Mirror)

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: