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Is It Correct to Say "I'm Done"?

September 12, 2013

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Comments (16)

Tara Benwell(Author)

Excellent! I really enjoyed reading this. It's great to know how editors come to their conclusions. Thanks for showing us how you work, Tanya!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks, Tara! I love delving into English grammar...I learn something new every day!

Jeremy Taylor(Guest)

I think it is important to ask 'who determines whether something is right or wrong'. Teachers are frequently told 'But I heard Robbie Williams sing 'I'm loving angels' or 'I heard a guy in London say 'I don't know nothing about antidisestablishmentarianism'. I wouldn't condemn the Londoner who uses a double negatives but I would recommend that my students avoid using them as they may be seen as uneducated by many people.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Jeremy, I totally agree with you about not teaching students incorrect language usage even if it's said/heard elsewhere. I do think that sometimes there's a fine line between 'mistakes' and the evolution of language, but in cases where a grammar point is wrong, like in your examples, I also tell my students to avoid it. Having said that, I can't find any evidence that 'I'm done' is actually 'wrong' (based on reputable sources, like dictionaries and style guides). What do you think about 'I'm done' in particular?

Scott Schumacher(Guest)

I'm done reading this.

Twas enjoyable. Thank you.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Good one! Thanks, Scott!

Christine (Guest)

Done is what you check when your cooking or baking;)

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Ha! Reminds me of the saying, 'Stick a fork in me; I'm done.' (For those that aren't familiar with it, it's usually used when you're full, but refers in jest to roasting oneself.)

Allie (Guest)

Whoever said that is insane. 'I'm done' is perfectly acceptable. It's said all the time when one is finished with an activity.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

I grew up using it and hearing it all the time too. I was so surprised when I crowd-sourced my worldwide editing group and realized many people had never hear it and thought it sounded strange!

Sueiman Seerat(Guest)

It was nice onformation. Thanks a world. I'm from Afganistan and an English teacher here. Once one of my friends aksed someone the exact question wanting to know what is the active voice of 'I'm done'. He thought that 'I do' is the active voice of it. hahahah although it was hilarious and I knew that 'Done' is not the past participle of verb 'do' here but for a reference I referred here. And thanks for the clear guidance... wish u best of luck and keep it up...

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Sueiman,

Thanks for your kind words. Yes, we usually only say 'I do' when we're saying our wedding vows!

Kate (Guest)

All the children at school say, 'I'm done' when they've finished their work. I think it sounds awful!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for sharing your opinion, Kate. It's interesting how controversial this phrase is. It sounds so natural to me!

Owen (Guest)

Here in Ireland (and in the UK) 'I'm done' would be considered an Americanism. 'I'm finished' is still very much the prevalent form on this side of the Atlantic.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks a lot for sharing that with us, Owen!

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