I am in the habit of using the phrase “when you are done.” It has been suggested to me that “when you are through” or “when you are finished” would be more desirable. Is any of these incorrect or less desirable than the others?
"When you are done cooking" sounds a bit suss compared to "When you are finished cooking", although I can't quite pin down why. "When you are done with cooking." sounds a bit better.
I think this usage of 'through' is quite American, but I'm not certain. It's certainly not common in Australia!
Summed up, "I am done" and "I am finished" and "I am through" are all correct, if used in the appropriate context.
I've always been brought up to the idea that "done" is used for objects i.e. Cooking is done, or work is done, and "finished" is used for people, i.e. I have finished.
"I am done" implies that you have been worked upon, which obviously is not what you are trying to communicate. Rather, you are trying to say that you have finished doing. It is correct to say "I do", and "I did", but "I am done" is informal. The reason for its popularity and common use is due to its close affinity with "I do" and "I did" and people assume that "I am done" can be used.
"I am through" is sometimes colloquialism; it means that you have completed, and is correctly used in certain cases, as in " I am through the course", but usages like "I am through with you", is derived from "I am through the course", and is informal. It's not standard, but its commonly used. "I am through" is also used informally in cases like "I am through with this job".
I am also Australian and only "I am finished" sounds perfectly natural to me.
"I am done" sounds American but I wouldn't be surprised if some of my younger countrymen now use it.
"I am through" sounds very American and I would be surprised if anyone uses it in Australia. I wonder if this might even be regional or dialectal in America or may once have been considered inferior.
All three share the same semantic meaning of "when you are complete". "Done", "through", and "finished" all indicate the same thing and are no less valid.
If this is for a formal communication, perhaps "complete" or "finished" would be preferable, simply due to being perceived as more formal. On occasion a style guide may also enforce which phrase you use as well.
All three are acceptable in American usage, and as far as I know in other English cultures.
- "When you are finished" is probably the most proper in all English-speaking cultures; the term is unambiguous and commonly used. However, it sometimes carries a connotation of finality.
- "When you are through" implies position. The origination was probably in giving navigational directions and moved over into general instruction: "when you are through the strait" implies that you will eventually find yourself on the other side of the strait than you are now; similarly, "when you are through cooking" implies that your life will "move past" the present act of cooking.
- "When you are done" is correct in American usage, and the term is also common through the rest of the English-speaking world. It's probably less preferred because it's a monosyllabic 4-letter word and therefore looks and sounds less educated.
"When you are through" is derived from the American-ism of being "through" with something. But would more normally imply position or movement, e.g. "Superman flew through the air", "Push the trolley through the shop".
In British-English one is not through with it but "done with it" (informal) or "finished with it" (more proper)
"Done" is considered less correct but is in common usage, I think, again, it may be an earlier American-ism, though I am not sure.
So to conclude; "When you are finished" is the best version, though Americans will also use the other two phrases interchangeably.
EDIT: "When you have finished" would be better again