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I have a question about nuance.

Often a question like "Have you run today"? is used to encourage someone to do something or to express you want them to do something.

"Have you been running?" is used when you see the results, for example the person is sweating, panting, etc.

I want to know which one I should use if I want to ask the person if running has taken place today by him/her. The person isn't panting and I don't want to encourage them. It is just a question out of curiosity, nothing more.

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    There's nothing wrong with asking "Have you been running today?" whether or not there is physical evidence of it. Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 16:52
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    As @WeatherVane says, it could mean either 'Have you been running (as exercise)?' or 'Have you moved at a running pace?' Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 17:00
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    @anouk: Note that Have you run today is a rather "dated" form (particularly for Americans). We usually use to do rather than to have as the auxiliary verb in such contexts today: Did you run today? Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 17:14
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    @anouk: Of course you can. But note that as I pointed out before, including the word today makes a big difference. Without that, the continuous form would be very unlikely unless something made the question "contextually relevant" (the person you're asking looks tired, he's wearing trainers instead of his normal shoes, whatever). And perhaps it's worth me restating that Have you been running yesterday? is a rather unlikely utterance. Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 17:56
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    Also note that context is everything. As a general principle, it makes no real difference whether you ask someone Did you brush your teeth? or Have you been brushing your teeth? Whichever way you phrase it, such a question could be seen as "bossy" (and/or potentially critical, if the context suggests you might actually be expecting a negative answer). Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 18:02

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Note that all of the nuances you mentioned are actually fairly light, and in most cases, come more from context than from the particular choice of phrase, so I don't think you really need to worry too much about somebody getting the wrong idea just from picking the wrong phrase here. All of these could be used in most situations without having a lot of extra meaning. That having been said:

Have you run today?

This has a bit of an implication that you expect that they have run or that they will run today (because otherwise, why would you be asking that question?). It's perfectly reasonable to say this if you already know that, for example, running is something they usually do every day anyway, and in that case it doesn't necessarily have much additional meaning (just "I know you usually run every day, did you do it today too?")

I think the reason that "Have you run" can sometimes be seen as encouraging or prodding is because it can also potentially be interpreted as "have you run yet?", meaning "did you do it already?". Depending on the context, however, this could either mean "Did you do it already? If not, you should!", or it could just mean "Did you do it already, or are you going to later instead?" (which is not particularly encouraging/prodding), so this all comes down to context and interpretation.

Have you been running?

This is actually asking if they have (recently) been running for some reason. "Have you run?" usually has the sense of somebody running for pleasure or for exercise, whereas "running" could just be because they were late, or needed to get out of the rain, etc. As mentioned, without "today" or something added to it, this phrasing also implies you're talking about recently (i.e. a few minutes ago, not hours ago).

The reason you say that it's said when you see sweating, etc, is, again, more one of context. If you didn't see those things, then why would you think they had been running, so why would you even ask the question in the first place? It's not the sort of question you'd just ask somebody randomly without some reason to think that they might have been running recently. However, it doesn't have to be visible results that prompt a question like this. You might ask this, for example, if you happen to know that they usually go running at a particular time (for example, they like to run during their lunch break, and they just came back from lunch).

Probably the most neutral form, which you didn't mention, would be the following:

Did you run today?

Again, this implies that you have some reason to believe that they would have run today (e.g. you already know that it's a habit of theirs), because otherwise why would you ask the question, but it doesn't have as strong of an association with the "yet" sense of things. It's really just asking whether somebody did or didn't run today.

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  • @ FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Text books say that "did you" can only be used at the end of the day, not during the day. What is your opinion on that? – anouk
    – anouk
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 7:10
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    That's interesting.. I don't believe I've ever encountered anything that said that, but personally I'd argue that any textbook which does say that is actually completely wrong (both formally and idiomatically). There is nothing in the rules of English grammar that says using the simple past tense ("did you") to ask whether something has (already) occurred (today) would imply in any way that there can't still be more of "today" which hasn't happened yet. Actually, the "did you" form is by far the most common (no matter what time of day), in my experience.
    – Foogod
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 23:57
  • What I meant was that "did you" can only be used at the end of the day when the day is over and you won't go running anymore that day.
    – anouk
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 21:02
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    Yeah, and I'm pretty sure that's wrong. It's perfectly fine to use "did you" even if it's not the end of the day, and even if you/they might go running later the same day. "did you" just asks if they already did at some point before now. It doesn't imply anything about what might or might not happen the rest of the day.
    – Foogod
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 21:52
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I'd like to add a little nuance to your question about nuance.

Nuance in spoken English is often achieved differently from the way it is done in the written form. And in general, I reckon the latter is more difficult, and takes more skill and practice, and that is made more of a challenge these days because people seem more inclined to write as they think it would be said, instead of putting in the work to develop that more involved written skill. (Confound these dang millennial kids and their long hair...)

Actually C.S. Lewis discusses this in an introduction to one of his essays in...hmmm..."Mere Christianity", I think. The article in question was first presented as a radio broadcast and he noted, in the written form, how he'd made some changes because of that difference in presentation medium.

Note that my use of "...hmmm..." in the above is an example of how not to express, in written form, hesitancy or uncertainty. But done on purpose. ;-)

Back to your question; if you are considering the spoken form then in fact it is quite difficult to satisfy your requirement of "just a question out of curiosity, nothing more". And that is precisely because there are umpteen ways in which the meaning of the apparently simple phrase "Have you been running?" could be varied when spoken. For example:

(Angry face, finger pointing, italic emphasis as shown) Have you been running?

(Meaning: You haven't been yet, have you? And you weren't going to go either, were you? You lazy waster!)

(Open-mouthed disappointed, same emphasis) Have you been running?

(Meaning: Aww, but I wanted to come too. Did you go without me?)

(Smirking, air-quoting the last word) Have you been ... runn-ing?

(Meaning: You went for a walk, didn't you?)

(Wide-eyed, partly shocked, partly in awe) Have you been running?

(Meaning: You just violated the international ban on running, didn't you? What a daredevil!)

Overall, I think @foogod's "Did you run today?" is a good choice. Another could be "Did you go for a run?". But again, even with neutral words, just as, if not more important are tone, body language, and facial expression. (Which is why it's so easy for things to go awry in emails or, these days, and with potentially disastrous effect, on Twitter.)

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