Q: "Have you finished washing the car?"

A: "I don't plan to wash the car, so yes, I am finished washing the car."

Is this appropriate usage of the word "finish", or is it misuse? Is the fact that you won't revisit something enough to justify the use of "finish" in this context?

I'm interested in this question for interpreting published game rules (and because I'm just a pedant that's interested in these kinds of questions.) I understand that usage may differ regionally, in which case, that's interesting to me as well.

  • 3
    Unless you mean as trickery or as a joke, I wouldn't finish without starting. Simpsons: We give a percentage of our profits to charity. Lisa: How much? Zero. Zero's a percentage. Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 0:00
  • 5
    You can’t finish something if you haven’t started it. But you can be finished with it.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 0:19
  • 3
    If you're interested in the context of game rules, you should post the specific rule you're asking about.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 3:13
  • 5
    Either I have finished washing the car (it's washed), or I am finished with washing the car! (not going to wash the car now or ever again). Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 3:26
  • 1
    It depends what 'rule' you're employing. Grice's maxim of manner says 'avoid misleading language' and his maxim of quality says 'don't try to deceive'. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 12:45

2 Answers 2


Definitions make it explicit or implicit that to finish something is to complete it, to bring it to a conclusion. For example:


to complete something or come to the end of an activity

To end

Merriam Webster offers many similar examples, all making finish a sequel to start.

Whether the activity was planned or not is irrelevant to its finish. Consider “The car finished skidding”. “The child finished crying”. “The sun finished shining”.

Your example sets out a false consequence by saying “yes”. It implies that you have finished because you had no intention, rather than had finished a previously started washing.

To avoid the false consequence, and if you wish to make a general statement that you no longer intend to wash the car in any circumstances, and that this determines your response to this and any question about washing it, a simpler reply is needed. You may say “I am finished washing the car” or “I am finished with washing the car”. Both statements use finish in the usual defined sense that you used to wash the car but will do so no longer.

This is similar to “I am finished with girls”, which implies that, although the speaker had an interest in girls, they no longer have it.

  • Can't 'come to the end of an activity' just mean 'stop'? "I'm finished [with] washing the car; someone else can complete the job." // There are a reasonable number of Google hits for "I'm finished trying to", for instance "I'm finished trying to convince ...". This indicates that there was no accomplishment. Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 14:07
  • As has been pointed out by @TinfoiHat, in a comment below the question, there is a difference between I have finished and I am finished with. The former implies that the action has been completed, while the latter is compatible with its being abandoned without completion. What complicates the matter, though, is that the former formulation tells us only that the action has been completed according to the speaker's standard of completion, with which we may not agree (the car looks fine to the person who 'finished' washing it, but one can still see some dirt on it).
    – jsw29
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 16:27

I love this brilliant (and funny) question, but it's really a philosophical one and not a linguistic one. However, let's see how the OED defines "finish" in the relevant sense:

To bring to an end; to come to the end of, go through the last period or stage of. To bring to completion; to make or perform completely; to complete.

To bring something to an end (or come to the end of it, etc.) you must first have started it, or at least it has to exist. If you never began, this seems impossible.

Just wash the damn car.

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