done/through (was: Those pesky negatives (revisited))

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Thu Aug 12 17:12:39 UTC 2004

Wilson Gray wrote:


I have to admit that this is not the first time that I've found myself
on the wrong side of the grammatical fence. I once believed that only
the illiterate or the semi-literate used "done" instead of "through" in
cases such as, "I'll be done with this posting in a few minutes" "you
can't go out till you're done with your chores" "are you done with
that?"  "may I use that when you're done?" Then I realized that I was
wrong. The truth was that only illiterate or semi-literate *white*
people used such forms. Finally, I realized that I was still wrong, For
speakers of standard English, such use of "done" is perfectly
grammatical, used by speakers of all levels of education or social
standing or sophistication. Rather, it's the use of "through" in cases
such as those above that is a grammatical peculiarity, a feature of
everyone's favorite non-standard dialect, Black English.


How's that again? I use "through" and "done" interchangeably, as far as I
can tell, in all the above expressions. I'm White, male, in my mid-fifties,
and grew up in New York City and environs in a mostly college-educated White
milieu of friends and family.

Replying to dInIs, he added:

               Rather, what I'm claiming is
merely that a white person would say something like, "I'm done killing
him," whereas a black person would say something like, "I'm through
killing him" and that either would say something like "I done finished
killing him" or "I've finished killing him."

Pulling the examples back to ones that are more realistic for me, I would
usually say "When you're done reading that book, can I have it?", but I
think I would also sometimes say it with "through". "Done finished" is not
in my dialect. I can't even imagine "done through".

Note that these are different syntactically from your first set of examples,
none of which involved "{done/through} V-ing". This difference accounts for
my more guarded testimony on these participial examples.

-- Mark A. Mandel
[This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]

More information about the Ads-l mailing list