"done"="finished"

by Mark Israel
 
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]

The OED's first citation for "done" in the sense of "finished" is
from 1300, and it has been in continuous use since then.  It was
used in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer ("When the Clerkes have dooen
syngyng"); by Francis Bacon ("Dinner being done, the Tirsan
retireth", 1611); by John Donne ("And having done that, Thou haste
done, I have no more", 1623); by Dryden ("Now the Chime of Poetry is
done", 1697); and by Dickens ("when the reading of this document is
done", 1859).  According to The Oxford Dictionary of English
Proverbs (OUP, 3rd ed., 1970, ISBN 0-19-869118-1), the proverb
"Man's work lasts till set of sun; woman's work is never done" is
first recorded with the words "is never done" in 1721.

   In the early 20th century, for some reason objections to the use
of "done" in the sense of "finished" arose in the U.S.  It became
regarded as colloquial, and in 1969 only 53% of AHD's usage panel
approved of it in writing.  Although these objections have now
subsided, one should still beware that the two senses of "done" may
cause ambiguity:  does "The work will be done next month" mean "The
work will get done next month" or "The work will be done by next
month"?

   The use of "be done" with a personal subject, meaning "have
finished", is described by the OED as "chiefly Irish, Sc., U.S., and
dial."  The first citation is dated 1766, and is from Thomas Amory,
a British writer of Irish descent:  "I was done with love for ever."
American users have included Thomas Jefferson ("One farther favor
and I am done", 1771); Mark Twain ("I am done with official life for
the present", 1872); and Robert Frost ("But I am done with apple-
picking now", 1914).   Users in the British Isles have included
Robert Louis Stevenson ("We were no sooner done eating than Clumsy
brought out an old, thumbed greasy pack of cards", 1886) and George
Bernard Shaw ("You can't be done:  you've eaten nothing", 1898).

   "Be finished" is also used in the sense of "have finished".
Jespersen's first citation is from Oliver Goldsmith ("When we were
finished for the day", 1766).  English-speakers should be careful
not to render this construction literally into other languages:
Partridge recounts the story of an Englishman who in a French
restaurant said Je suis fini to the waiter, who looked at the
"finished" customer with some concern.

   Any of "be done", "be finished", "have done", and "have finished"
may be followed either with a gerund, or with "with" plus any
noun phrase.  If "with" is not used and the noun phrase is not a
gerund, then only "have finished" may be used ("have done" would not
have the sense "have finished" here).  Use of "with" changes the
meaning:  "I have finished construction of the building" means that
the building is fully constructed, whereas "I have finished with
construction of the building" means merely that *my* part is over.

   These uses of "be done" and "be finished" are examples of
what Fowler called the "intransitive past participle", where,
instead of the more usual transformation:
      "A {transitive verb}s B" -> "B is {transitive verb}ed"
we see the transformation:
      "A {intransitive verb}s" -> "A is {intransitive verb}ed"
Fowler gives the examples:  fallen angels, the risen sun, a
vanished hand, past times, the newly arrived guest, a grown girl,
absconded debtors, escaped prisoners, the deceased lady, the
dear departed, coalesced stems, a collapsed lorry, we are agreed,
a couched lion, an eloped pair, an expired lease.