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So, in a test I wrote the following sentence:

The city looked horrible after the hurricane was done destroying it.

I was told that the usage of "done" in here is incorrect, but I have no idea why. Could someone please explain? I've seen this used a number of times (done + -ing), is it specifically connected to the word "destroy?" I am supposed to use only English grammar in my tests, so it is possible that this is something exclusive to other forms of English. I am simply puzzled.

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  • Maybe the examiner / teacher wanted to read: "... after the hurricane had finished destroying it." or "... after the hurricane had successfully destroyed it" ?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:00
  • @Mari-LouA no, the sentence was incorrect and I was asked to correct it, no specifications how I should do such a thing were given. I simply chose to do so this way.
    – Filip
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:18
  • As a native speaker, I think "done" looks OK here, if maybe very informal.
    – stangdon
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:51

1 Answer 1

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Usually we use the expression be done VERBing to signify that someone has finished something they set out to accomplish, and it's very odd to think of a hurricane setting out to destroy a city. A hurricane is an impersonal force of nature which doesn't have purposes or goals.

So your grammar is fine, but unless you're treating the storm as an actual person your semantics are pretty wonky.

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    I'm not sure the "done -ing" form always implies conscious action instead of simple completion. For example, "After the turkey is done roasting, we will all sit down to dinner." Although there is some suggestion of anthropomorphism in a sentence like, "After the tornado was done tearing through the trailer park, the community emerged from the shelters and surveyed the damage."
    – Andrew
    Oct 7, 2016 at 18:23
  • @Andrew Hmm...I must confess that the turkey's done roasting bothers me less than the document's done printing. Perhaps that's idiolectal; or perhaps it's interference from done in the sense "completely cooked"; or perhaps it's a metaphysical apprehension that the telos of a turkey is to be roasted! Oct 7, 2016 at 18:32
  • @StoneyB Perhaps it is simply your instinctual correction of grammar. You know that being done with something can be a thing only for a consciousness, making it feel awful on the subject of a thing that does not and can not posses such a trait (paper) but not so awful for something that can actually think, like turkey, even though it probably does not do much thinking in the oven.
    – Filip
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:30

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