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Old 07-11-2009, 10:05 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
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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.
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.