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  #1  
Old 07-11-2009, 08:36 AM
SanDiegoTim SanDiegoTim is offline
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Proper usage of "done" and "finished"

Although I cannot recall the source, I was taught that the word "done" relates to food preparation (The turkey is done). On the other hand, "finished" means completed (My homework is finished).

Modern dictionaries don't seem to make this distinction. Did something change over the last 40 years?
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  #2  
Old 07-11-2009, 09:05 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Done used to be considered too casual a word for formal use. (Formal meaning good newspapers, magazines, books, etc.)

Theodore Bernstein's The Careful Writer from 1965 still preaches this distinction.
Quote:
The headline, "Ecuador Rail Line Done," illustrates an improper, casual use of done. The word should not be used in good writing to mean finished or completed. It is proper to say, "The roast is done," but this does not mean that it is finished; it means the roast is sufficiently cooked.
Bernstein was an old-fashioned prescriptivist and his sense of what was proper was obsolete by the time the book was published. My favorite Huh? moment is when he stated that "there is no use such a word [as balding]. Why not baldish?" Balding was already the overwhelming choice and baldish is all but obsolete. (Baldish is not in my spell checker!) It's not that the language changed 40 years ago (those damned hippies!) but that it had already changed 40 years ago and Bernstein was fighting a rear-guard failing retreat. My 1992 American Heritage College Dictionary doesn't even bother to put in a usage note about the words.

Formal English observes few of these distinctions today. Yet nuances remain. You still wouldn't say "the roast is finished." And most people would not use done for a highly formal setting, as in "the two countries' trade agreement talks were done today." In the broad middle, however, either word would be appropriate almost all of the time.

Note that the construction has to follow a "to be" verb. You can say that you finished the roast, or your homework, or the paint job, but not you done (or did) the roast or the others. That is considered substandard, although it can be found in a few dialects.
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Old 07-11-2009, 09:51 AM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
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I was taught, "Cakes are done. Pies are done. But people are finished or through."
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Old 07-11-2009, 10:05 AM
ashman165 ashman165 is offline
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You can think of it as the difference between sufficient and complete.

Done implies that there's a sufficient degree of progress to stop doing something -- the thing in question has been carried out (but there might still be more that can be, well, done).

Finished implies there there's no possible way to continue further because the whatever is quite simply complete -- the thing in question is at an end.

Of course, they're practically synonymous this day as I've noted, with done pulling slightly ahead of finished. However, I require my children to say "I'm finished" rather than "I'm done". This might be needlessly pedantic, or even useless to them in later life, but making the distinction hasn't seemed to have made my life any worse for the wear, so I go with it.

Consider something you've cooked: "the chicken is done . . . but still needs to rest, be carved, served and eaten" against something like homework, "my homework is finished; there is nothing else that I can do with respect to it."
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Old 07-11-2009, 11:40 AM
robcaro robcaro is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crafter_Man View Post
I was taught, "Cakes are done. Pies are done. But people are finished or through."
I agree. That is the way that I was taught.
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Old 07-11-2009, 03:01 PM
cochrane cochrane is offline
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I went to elementary school between 40 and 45 years ago and I was never taught any distinction. I assumed the words were synonymous and have never been corrected for using "done" in place of "finished." Although, of course, I wouldn't say "finished" in the course of food preparation (unless I'm talking about after the meal, when there are no leftovers. Then the food is well and truly "finished." ).

And having said that, I'm done.
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Old 07-11-2009, 05:31 PM
Nametag Nametag is offline
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Quote:
Note that the construction has to follow a "to be" verb. You can say that you finished the roast, or your homework, or the paint job, but not you done (or did) the roast or the others. That is considered substandard, although it can be found in a few dialects.
I recall that I did my homework as a child, as well as the dishes, and if asked whether I had done the painting, I would say, "I did the painting, and I did the cleaning up afterward." I'll admit that I have never done a roast, although I once saw Jason Biggs do an apple pie.
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Old 07-11-2009, 06:02 PM
Kimmy_Gibbler Kimmy_Gibbler is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SanDiegoTim View Post
Although I cannot recall the source, I was taught that the word "done" relates to food preparation (The turkey is done). On the other hand, "finished" means completed (My homework is finished).

Modern dictionaries don't seem to make this distinction. Did something change over the last 40 years?
No, nothing changed in the last forty years. They've always been perfectly acceptable synonyms. Moreover, there is not, as some have suggested above, a difference in register between the two.

Oh, sure, a few people who enjoy codifying their own shibboleths into grammatical "laws" are heard now and again to insist on a distinction--these schoolmarms have never been taken seriously by any real writer or lexicographer. You may consider it a linguistic superstition.
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