Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference between ‘Done’ and ‘Finished’

‘Done’ vs ‘Finished’

There is a common English saying that goes, “Cakes are done, but people are finished.” This is to remind English speakers of the proper and accepted usage of the two words, ‘done’ and ‘finished’. This is confusing to English speakers because ‘done’ means something that has been brought to a conclusion or an end, as in: It is done when the timer goes off. The word ‘finished’ means completed or concluded, as in: He finished the race first. They are listed as synonyms for each other in any dictionary or thesaurus as well. They should be able to be used interchangeably and in actuality, often are in everyday English conversation and writing.

The distinction in the usage of the words requires going back in the history of the evolution of the English language. Back sometime before the 1700s, the word ‘done’ had a slightly different meaning. ‘To have done’ was the usual way to use the word ‘done’, but ‘done’ was starting to be used colloquially or informally by certain groups of English speakers to mean ‘to be done’, which the exact same as ‘finished’. ‘Finished’ was a more formal or higher sounding word, so it came to be viewed as improper to use the word ‘done’ to mean that you had finished a task by some language experts. This tradition of using the word ‘finished’ instead of ‘done’ to be more correct has been slowly fading in modern times, but it is still held on to by many English speakers.

There is also the context to keep in mind when deciding which word is best to use. ‘Finished’ is generally used as an absolute word, meaning something is totally completed and completed well. It can be seen in the example: The man is finished with all of his work, because he has done each of his projects. The entirety of the work is called ‘finished’, but the smaller parts, or projects, are called ‘done’. This usage of the ‘finished’ implies that he did a good job on his work too. ‘Finished’ gives the connotation or sense that something is of good quality or craftsmanship because that is one of its definitions, such as: The workmanship of the craftsman was highly finished.

‘Done’ can have a less absolute meaning, as if to say: “I am done for now.” or “I am done with this part, but I am not finished with the whole thing.” ‘Done’ also has the meaning of something be over, as in quitting something. So if a person says, “I am done with playing music.” he likely means that he is not intending to ever play it again, because he has given up on it. ‘Done’ gives the feeling that something is not completed well, or to satisfaction, which would be a reason to give up or quit something. If a person feels they have not successfully completed a task, they will generally say, “I am done” rather than “I am finished.”

Although there is not much grammatical difference between the words ‘done’ and ‘finished’, it is good to be aware of the traditional usage of the words. It can be noted that the words are often used interchangeably for each other, but it is most accepted to refer to objects and non-personal things as ‘done’, but people, or things people accomplish, as ‘finished.’ Keep in mind as well, that ‘finished’ has a more positive and well-accomplished meaning, and ‘done’ a slightly more negative and poorly-accomplished meaning when applied to a task.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s helpful to reference the expression ‘finishing school’, which describes a polishing, a final addition to a process, which results in someone who has a complete education, and is ready for the big wide world. A very different sense to someone who has ‘done’ with education.

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