I’m done for now...
How often do we hear students say “I’m done” to mean I’m finished? How often do we say it ourselves? It’s so common that I, for one, have never really stopped to think about it. Recently, though, someone mentioned that I’m done is incorrect grammar. I decided to look into this expression to see what others thought.
Is It a Passive Verb or an Adjective?
When we look closely at the parts, we can see Be with the past participle form of Do. This construction is used for two cases in English: the passive voice and adjectives.
The passive voice occurs when the subject is not the one who is performing the action. In other words, the meaning of “by someone” is included in the verb. (E.g., The book was checked out of the library [by someone].) Since we can’t say I’m done (by someone), we can safely assume that this construction isn’t the passive voice.
What about an adjective? In English, participial adjectives are common for feelings (e.g., I’m embarrassed, I’m frightened, etc.). Usually these adjectives involve feelings, so done doesn’t exactly fit into this category. However, as we all know, English has many exceptions, and classifying done as an adjective when the meaning is finished is exactly what most dictionaries and reference guides do. Adjective it is!
What Do the Reference Guides Say?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage:
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage has a comprehensive entry for done used in this sense. They explain that done is widely criticized for reasons that are not clear. In fact, done as an adjective with the meaning of finished has been in use since the fourteenth century, and be done, specifically, dates back to the eighteen century. Merriam-Webster's stance is clear:
“The construction is standard.”
Merriam-Webster’s also mentions that finished has been used with be since the later eighteenth century. So it seems as if both constructions came into being around the same time.
Google Ngram Viewer:
When looking up I’m done and I’m finished in books between 1920 and 2000, we can see that I’m done has been used more often than I’m finished except between 1970 and 1990. After 1990, the popularity of I’m done is clear.
While both I’m done and I’m finished are correct, common, and generally accepted, I'm done is by far the more popular choice. Some grammar sticklers might argue that the best construction is I have finished, but this sounds a bit formal and stuffy in my opinion. I'm comfortable teaching my students that I’m done is correct.