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I have seen this question on a new client form for a fitness studio. It says:

"Are you exercising or have you been exercising recently?" If yes, please describe.

Does this mean: "Are you currently ( not at this exact moment) exercising or have you been exercising until recently, but have now stopped?" or does it mean: "Are you currently exercising or have you been exercising for a while?"

I would like to know why both present continuous and present perfect continuous are used.

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    I'm sure they're not asking if you're filling in the questionnaire while running or lifting weights or whatever. They're asking whether you're "currently" following an exercise regime of some kind (or were you, until very recently). The reason for (fairly pointlessly) asking both is that even if you're not currently following any such regime, it's still relevant to them (and might make a difference to how they deal with you) if you did until recently. Feb 3, 2021 at 18:21
  • @FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica If I ask someone: "Have you been exercising recently" it could well mean that someone has been following an exercise regime for a while and is still continuing, correct?
    – anouk
    Feb 3, 2021 at 18:29
  • Nobody really cares about that level of detail in the context you're asking about. They just want to know if you "know the ropes", or whether you might be a complete "newbie" who has no idea what to expect from a fitness class because you've never done anything like that before. Feb 3, 2021 at 18:42
  • @ FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Yes, but I mean in general if I ask "have you been xxx-ing recently, it usually means someone has been doing it for a while and is still doing it. Or am I wrong?
    – anouk
    Feb 3, 2021 at 18:46
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    I'm saying don't attach too much "precision" to the exact meaning of the verb form. If I ask Have you been earning money recently? the "unqualified" answer Yes wouldn't necessarily tell me whether you currently have a paying job. That answer might just mean you got a couple of days paid work last month. Feb 3, 2021 at 19:17

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So first, the phrase "are (you) exercising" could mean either "doing exercises right now", or it could mean "doing exercise on a regular basis" (an ongoing thing, but not necessarily right now). In this context, it is pretty clear that "exercising" is being used to refer to the latter (ongoing, on a regular basis). What this sentence means, therefore is:

  • "Are you exercising" -- are you in the ongoing habit of exercising regularly
  • "or have you been exercising recently" -- were you previously in the habit of exercising regularly (but have recently stopped)

Here, "recently" is a bit vague, but for the purposes of a questionnaire, it doesn't really matter. What they're really trying to find out is just is regular exercise something you've not done for a long time, or are you reasonably familiar/used to it?

The reason both forms are used is actually really because they want to emphasize the ambiguity of the question. They don't want people thinking they mean only one specific interpretation when they actually just want to know a more general answer. If they said:

Are you exercising?

Then some people might interpret this differently than intended. "Well, I have been exercising up to now, but I don't plan to do as much in the future, so maybe I should say 'no'", or "Well, I do usually exercise, but I haven't been able to for the past week, so I guess the answer is 'no'." (but these are both situations where the people giving the questionnaire would probably want you to answer "yes")

On the other hand, if they said:

Have you been exercising recently?

Then this might be misinterpreted as well: "Well, I don't normally exercise at all, but I did run a bit yesterday, so that was recent exercise, right?"

In this case, the combination of the two ("Are you exercising, or have you been exercising recently?") actually makes it clear that they're not looking for specific instances or fine distinctions, but just want a general answer about your overall recent exercise habits. The "are you exercising" part makes it clear we're talking about general ongoing exercise, not specific instances (since it wouldn't make sense to ask someone filling out a form if they were also exercising right now), but the "or have you been exercising recently" makes it clear that it also isn't really important whether you stopped recently or not, they also want to know about that case too.

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  • So "have you been exercising recently" could mean on only one occasion, it does not necessarily mean habitual behaviour?
    – anouk
    Feb 4, 2021 at 7:45
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    Right, it could mean "have you been exercising regularly, until recently?", or it could just mean "were you doing exercise not long ago?", so the meaning can me ambiguous in some cases.
    – Foogod
    Feb 4, 2021 at 17:59
  • @ Foogod I thought that "Have you been exercising recently" could also mean you started exercising on a regular basis a short while ago and you are still doing it.
    – anouk
    Feb 4, 2021 at 18:20
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    Yes, it can potentially also mean that too.
    – Foogod
    Feb 5, 2021 at 21:37

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