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Recently, in an essay, I used "finishing up" in a sentence. My teacher marked it wrong, because to finish something isn't an action that takes time. But I've heard "finishing up" used in real life. Is it grammatically correct to use finish in present continuous tense?

  • I don't see why not. It I was in the final stages of, say, making something and someone called to me, I might say "I'm just finishing - I'll be with you in a minute". – Kate Bunting Sep 11 at 8:00
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    Your teacher is going against standard usage. I wonder what they think "half-finished" means? When someone says they're going to finish breakfast, for example, nobody takes that to be only about the future moment when the last mouthful is swallowed. – nnnnnn Sep 11 at 8:26
  • Welcome to ELU. Please read the FAQ here: english.stackexchange.com/help/asking – Kris Sep 11 at 10:47
  • Have you looked up the word finish in a good dictionary for its meanings and usage examples? – Kris Sep 11 at 10:47
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    This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. - Churchill knows these things take time. – marcellothearcane Sep 11 at 21:42
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Any action, including finishing something, takes a measurable amount of time between its start and its completion. It's not possible for any action to occur instantaneously, even if its length of time isn't perceptible. There will always be some moment before and some moment after—and some amount of time in between those two moments.

Further, if you're able to say that you're finishing up, then what you're doing is taking a perceptible amount of time—at least as long as it takes to say that, but most likely longer.

Your teacher may have been confusing finishing up with something like this:

I am finished.

That doesn't involve time, because finished in that sentence is an adjective, not a verb, and it's describing a property or attribute.

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Context is everything of course so we can’t really tell if your usage was correct but the teacher’s answer seems unsatisfactory. Perhaps they were having a bad day. Finishing up us very common in spoken English, could you show us how you intended to use it in the written form?

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