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Up to now I have been using "to go fencing" and "to do fencing". But today I read this article which says that to use "go" with "fencing" is not correct:

There’s always an exception to the rule in English! These sports are not used with go:

boxing

fencing

weight training

Don’t use a verb with these sports. They don’t fit easily into any of the three categories. Don’t say “I do boxing” or “I go fencing.”

I have never heard of it. Does "to go fencing" have the right to exist?

Here are another opinions.

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2 Answers 2

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In my opinion, yes, "to go fencing" has a right to exist. Note that this is an opinion, just like everything else about what is correct or not, and this is the kind of opinion that fluent speakers reasonably disagree about. What I can do to help you form your own opinion, though, is tell you my reasons.

  1. "Go ____ing" is usually used for activities that require travel to a different place to do them. The reason you "go" fishing is because you can't do it here. You have to go to a pond or a creek or someplace like that. If you danced at home, we don't say that you "went dancing"; you just "danced". We say "go dancing" to mean that you went someplace, away from home, like a dance club, and danced there.

  2. "Go ____ing" also suggests that the activity is being done by amateurs, not professionally (also not by very serious amateurs of the sort who might go to the Olympics). Professional fishermen, for example, are usually said to "fish", not to "go fishing". A ballet dancer is said to have "danced at the Royal Opera House in London", not to have "gone dancing" there.

None of that is a rule, of course. English works more by precedents, analogies, and conflicting pressures than by rules. People don't usually say "go boxing" even though usually you go someplace special to box (a gym with a boxing ring) and even though boxing is mainly done by amateurs. However, when the notion of traveling there is salient, people do say "go boxing". For example, this Quora question asks "Is it OK to go boxing after I lift?" This suggests that the speaker lifts weights someplace different than where he or she boxes. Similarly when people speak of "going boxing" as a date, since a date suggests travel to a public place.

Fencing is normally done in a special place that you have to travel to, so it's reasonable to speak of "going fencing"—unless you're already at the fencing club. So, especially if you want to suggest that you are fencing as an amateur, not very seriously, but you do go to a fencing club (rather than just fencing with friends at home), "to go fencing" is reasonable. If you search Google, you'll find plenty of usage of "go fencing".

I think there are two main reasons why some fluent speakers might shy away from "to go fencing". (1) They have never done it and they don't know anyone who has, so they haven't heard the expression "go fencing". (2) Fencing is usually understood as a serious and dignified sport, comparable to ballet. So, "go fencing" might seem to clash with that.

If you want to avoid the connotations of "go fencing", then the best verb is "fence". I don't recommend "do fencing", because it sounds ungainly, but it's certainly not incorrect grammar.

Otherwise, my advice is …

Keep Calm and Go Fencing

Image source: spreadshirt.com

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There's quite a lot written about it online (Here are the sources My English class and LanguageLearningBase).

  1. We use "go" with activities or sports that focus on movement and end in -ing. The verb go here implies that we go somewhere to practice this sport:

    • Go fishing
    • Go swimming
    • Go hiking
    • Go running
  2. We use "do" with recreational activities and with individual, non-team sports or sports in which a ball is not used, like martial arts:

    • Do aerobics
    • Do karate
    • Do archery
    • Do athletics

You use do with three activities that end in -ing: do boxing, do body-building and do weight-lifting because they don't imply moving along as the other activities ending in -ing.

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    So what about fencing? ;)
    – Yulia
    Jun 26, 2017 at 9:54
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    Both verbs sound okay to me. However, you generally do fencing. If that still worries you, use the verb "practice". Ask your self a question "What do I do?" - I fence or I do fencing. Jun 26, 2017 at 9:58
  • I don't know about the grammatical rules--but I do fence a lot. People say "I'm fencing tonight". There is a common "go fence" usage but it's not like "go running" it's part of going to a club or tournament as in "we're going to go fence in Seattle next weekend" -- but "we're fencing in Seattle" is more likely. I have NEVER heard anyone say "do fencing"
    – elc
    Feb 27, 2018 at 18:19

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