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Consider this short dialogue please.

Alex: Hey, Mark, we are having a party on Saturday, do you want to come?
Mark: Thanks Alex, but I can't. I will be studying both Saturday and Sunday, because I have an important exam on Monday.

My question is what is the difference between the party and the exam - both are planned, fixed, organised etc. and in the near future. Why Present Continuous for the party and Simple for the exam? Or am I wrong?

3 Answers 3

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The difference between "have an exam" and "are having a party" is more related to the various nuances of the verb "to have" than grammar.

An exam is a single, scheduled event, and one that you can't avoid, so here "have" is somewhat synonymous with "must do", i.e. "I have to take this exam". This usage is not always an obligation, but it does imply a planned event, something already on the calendar.

Meanwhile, "having" a party is synonymous with "throwing" a party, as if it was something you own. You would only use it if it was your own event, where you are the host. So here "have" is like the usual use to imply ownership, i.e. "I own this event."

Moreover parties are ongoing events, so the feeling is of an event that occurs over some period of time, "We're going to be partying till dawn!"

Note that while both events are in the future, the statements are in the present/progressive tense because they are statements of current condition. In the same way that I have some money, or I have a cold, I can have an appointment for a future date.

I have my relatives coming to visit this evening

She has two surgeries scheduled for next week.

The store has a shipment of new furniture coming this Friday.

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The two answers noting that "have" in the present can mean that you presently have plans for something in the future.

However, I don't see mention here of the occasionally used present tense verb for an established future plan, or something expressed as a very likely consequence. Below is an example of each.

"Next Tuesday I travel to college."

"If you're not on that train to college next Tuesday, your cellphone disappears and you have no more social life!"

These aren't super common but they're worth being aware of. There are several ways to describe the future in English, some of which may be unexpected. Another is the future continuous for subtle reasons: "Will you be going to the movies with Charlie tonight, Silvia?"

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  • Yes, Simple Present is also used for established future plans, but is that valid also for have as used in the sentence used from the OP? In that case, have is used instead of the modal verb must. (I know a sentence like I will must pay the bill before January. is not possible.)
    – apaderno
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 6:33
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In this example, having a party means "putting on" a party. You could say "going to have a party", except that part of the party planning/preparations is already happening so "we are having" is more accurate.

On the other hand, the person has the exam on that day whether or not they prepare for it, OR show up for it. It is simply a mention of a future obligation on a certain date. To say "I am having an exam next month." implies you are already in the middle of having to take it, which could make sense BUT is awkward and unusual.

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    Do you have a reference for "I have" meaning an obligation and "I am having" meaning that we have control over it? I'm a native US English speaker, and that doesn't really sound right to me.
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 22:25
  • Maybe the wasn't the best way to say it, I'll edit the answer.
    – Stew C
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 22:43
  • @stangdon I agree that it's not always an obligation, but Stew C is on the right track and it implies a set appointment. "I can't clean my room tonight, Mom, I have a date!"
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 22:43

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