Are we done yet?

“Man’s work lasts till set of sun, Woman’s work is never done.”Readers objected to a headline on Monday’s front page:

Done eating that oyster? The state wants the shell.

As one reader put it, “cakes are done; people are finished.”


Those readers who found this usage wrong have older usage guides on their side. Apparently this rule was widely taught in mid-20th century English classes, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage suggests, because many people know about it. My copy of Theodore H. Bernstein’s “The Careful Writer” advises writers to use “finished,” instead of “done,” unless they are referring to the doneness of food.But, as Bryan A. Garner points out in “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” most usage experts recognize that “done” has been used as an adjective since the 15th century. (See the proverb above.) He finds no reason to object to “done.”I also think that the headline writer used the more familiar “done” in that headline to make it more conversational. Many people who live in this part of the world would say, “are you done with that oyster?”Besides, as a colleague said, “finished” wouldn’t fit.Here is my advice: If using “done” for “finished” makes your tongue curl, don’t do it. If you want to teach your children not to use “done” for “finished,” go right ahead. But you should know that you don’t have newer usage books on your side.Go here for another explanation of done vs. finished.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.