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

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. But last week, a customer on our sister-site, Sprout English, mentioned that I’m done is incorrect grammar, and we should be using I’m finished at the bottom of our online readings instead. I decided to look into this expression to make sure we were using it correctly.

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!

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 14th century, and be done, specifically, dates back to the 18th 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 18th 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 1800 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.

Googlefight:

Clearly, I’m done is used more often than I’m finished, with 478,000,000 results compared to 78,900,000 results, respectively.

Google Battle:

In a search involving 2,601,000,000 pages, I’m done appears far more often (with 2,170,000,000 results) than I’m finished (with 431,000,000 results).

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.

Are we done yet?

Tanya

19 comments

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  1. Owen says:

    Feb 18, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    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.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 19, 2019 at 7:38 pm

      Thanks a lot for sharing that with us, Owen!

  2. Kate says:

    Nov 29, 2018 at 11:34 am

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

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 11, 2018 at 5:23 pm

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

  3. Sueiman Seerat says:

    Jul 17, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    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…

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jul 24, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Sueiman,

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

  4. Allie says:

    Jun 24, 2017 at 3:10 pm

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

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 26, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      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!

    • Oran says:

      Jun 30, 2019 at 2:38 pm

      So is it a positive or negative word ? If I said I’m done playing a board game with others. Does it mean literally I finished playing, maybe I enjoyed it, or it means I was not happy playing the game and it’s finally ended ?

      • Tanya Trusler says:

        Jul 02, 2019 at 6:50 pm

        Great question! It depends on your intonation. If said neutrally, “done” just means “finished.” The meaning is usually positive (e.g., I’m done my homework). However, we do use the expression “done” to mean “not wanting to deal with it anymore,” and this meaning is usually negative. We use it when we’re fed up with something/someone. For example, you could say “I’m so done with this project! I give up.” or “I’m done arguing with you!”

        In your example, if you said “I’m done playing this board game” in a neutral tone, it would just mean that the game is over. But if you if the game wasn’t finished and you got fed up because you were losing, you could say/yell “I’m done playing this board game!” and storm off!

        • Oran says:

          Jul 07, 2019 at 8:17 am

          Thanks for the clarification Tanya. If I want to express my happiness or positive feeling after the game, what should I say ? Should I avoid using “I’m done ?” I want to use something simple and short.

  5. Christine says:

    Sep 05, 2016 at 3:39 pm

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

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 06, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      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.)

  6. Scott Schumacher says:

    Mar 25, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    I’m done reading this.

    Twas enjoyable. Thank you.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 25, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      Good one! Thanks, Scott!

  7. Jeremy Taylor says:

    Sep 12, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    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.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 12, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      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?

  8. Tara says:

    Sep 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    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!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 12, 2013 at 5:20 pm

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

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