5

Which of these alternatives is grammatically correct?

I’m done.

or

I have finished

Like I’m done sounds very American, but is it grammatically correct?

2
  • 1
    This has nothing to do with grammar.
    – tchrist
    Feb 9, 2014 at 1:41
  • 1
    "I am, at present, sensing no need or desire to consume further food."
    – Hot Licks
    May 26, 2015 at 21:10

5 Answers 5

3

I’m done is grammatical but informal. It is found mainly in American English rather than British English.

7
  • 2
    I'm skeptical about the claim that "I'm done" is informal.
    – user16723
    Feb 8, 2014 at 19:44
  • 2
    You're entitled to be. I'm a mere Brit. Do you have any authentic examples showing it used in a formal context? Feb 8, 2014 at 19:51
  • 2
    @BenCrowell The term I'm done, which I was not previously aware was American (one hears it often enough in Britain), means 'I have finished'. So to be formal wouldn't the expression have to be 'I have done', or 'I've done'. 'I am done' would seem to refer to some personal bodily subjection that one has sustained!
    – WS2
    Feb 8, 2014 at 20:16
  • 1
    The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says that this sense of "done" is found "often, but not exclusively, in casual or informal usage." I'm not convinced that an example proves anything in this kind of situation. An extremely common usage like this will of course exist in formal writing; the question is how commonly it exists, and how commonly in the work of the best writers.
    – user16723
    Feb 8, 2014 at 21:06
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    @WS2: Take a look at the answers by Edwin Ashworth and user61979. Your criticism of the construction as illogical would make sense if "am" was a copula -- although idioms don't have to be logical. But apparently "am" survives in this usage, outside of England, as a remnant of the old-fashioned use of "to be" in forming the past perfect.
    – user16723
    Feb 8, 2014 at 23:22
2

'I am done (with my work)' is a straggler from older English.

In Old English, the present perfect was formed somewhat differently. Whereas Modern English uses to have in almost every construction, be it transitive or intransitive, older English used to have with transitive verbs and to be with intransitive verbs. Here are some intransitive examples:

'He is risen.' (ModE 'he has risen.')

'I was come to his house.' (ModE 'I had come to his house.')

'We are fallen from riches.' (ModE 'We have fallen from riches.')

There is no change, however, with transitive verbs:

'I have hit him.' (But never 'I am hit him.')

'I have eaten dinner.' (But never 'I am eaten dinner.')

'He has never liked them.' (But never 'He is never liked them.')

Often, the Modern English verb to do still follows the old paradigm, whence we get the following intransitive construction:

'I am done (with my work).'

And the following transitive construction:

'I have done my work.'

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  • The link from Edwin Ashworth's answer claims that "I have done [my work]" was replaced by "I am done [with my work]" ca. 1700 in Ireland, Scotland, and America. If it's connected to OE as you say, then maybe it's an archaism that survived and later killed off the newfangled usage in those areas.
    – user16723
    Feb 8, 2014 at 23:16
  • Back when I actually did things, I would very often, in response to a query about progress on some project, respond "I'm done with that" or something similar. "I have finished" would sound rather over-formal in many contexts.
    – Hot Licks
    May 26, 2015 at 22:14
  • Can you please provide evidence that this expression with "to be + done" existed in Old English?
    – herisson
    Mar 4, 2017 at 17:38
  • @sumelic Since it's been three years, I'm afraid I can't. Truth be told, I'm no longer sure whether to be done existed in Old English at all, only that it parallels a common Old English construction. I'd say I have a tad more academic rigor these days. O how the years change us.
    – Anonym
    Mar 4, 2017 at 20:48
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    I see. I'm similarly unsure about this, which is why I downvoted. It seems the "be + past participle" construction was pretty restricted in Old and Middle English; I don't know that much about it, but I looked at the following paper: ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/000588. There may also be relevant references in the following article, but I haven't had a chance to look for them yet: microsyntax.sites.yale.edu/done-my-homework
    – herisson
    Mar 4, 2017 at 20:59
1

These short sentences perhaps disguise the fact that there are two questions here.

At Motivated Grammar is an article claiming that 'done' and 'finished' are interchangeable here. There are also comments that 'I'm done' for a person as subject (agent) is more acceptable in general in American English, and others that it is not acceptable at all or in formal speech. Personally, I'd use it in conversation (though more often 'I've done') but usually switch to 'I've finished' if I considered a more formal register preferable.

Looking at the choice of verb/auxiliary, have is obviously an auxiliary forming the perfect in 'I have finished' (and 'I have done'). However, it is arguable that be is the copula followed by a (participial) adjective in 'I am done' (cf 'I am exhausted / I am tired / I am cold). But there are still lingering examples of be used as an alternative auxiliary to have ('I am come' cannot be other, though it is archaic). The question hinges upon whether the -ed form is principally describing a state (participial adjective) or the attaining of that state (past participle), and isn't, I'd say, always easy to resolve.

0

I'm more likely to say "I'm done" or "I'm through", though I don't see anything wrong with "I've finished".

-3

"I'm done" sounds to me like you've been cooked. I don't like that usage at all.

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  • Hello, p.l.zeigler. ELU is not a discussion forum; if you can find an authority indicating that 'I'm done' is in some way unacceptable, that would be valid to give as an answer. Personal opinions are not (especially when they are contrary to accepted usage). Aug 7, 2015 at 22:50
  • It's true that the recent expression "Stick a fork in it—it's done" has the connotation you're talking about, p.l.zeigler, though it is by no means the only possible meaning of "it's done." But you would need to develop that idea (or something like it) to satisfy the threshold requirement for a valid answer on this site that Edwin Ashworth describes in his comment above.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 7, 2015 at 23:19

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