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Here is an exercise from English Grammar in Use Supplementary Exercises by Loise Hashemi and Reymond Murphy.


I. "Ben's doctor has advised him to join a health club. The instructor is going to help him to plan his fitness programme. Write the instructor's questions. Read the whole conversation before you begin".

Instructor: Ok, Ben. Let's find out how fit you are. First of all, how old are you?

Ben: I'm 32.

Instructor: And how much do you weigh?

Ben: About 75kg.

Instructor: And how tall are you?

Ben: 1.8m

Instructor: What do you do for a living?

Ben: I work in a call centre for a bank.

Instructor: Really? So, do you exercise regularly?

Ben: Well, I take some exercise, but it's not regular.

Instructor: Do you do any sports.

Ben: No, I haven't done any sport since I left school. I sometimes go for a walk on my day off if the weather's good.

Instructor: I see. Do you have a healthy diet?

Ben: No, I wouldn't say I had a healthy diet exactly. I like fast food too much and I drink about 15 cups of strong coffee every day.

Instructor: That's a lot of coffee. Have you tried to give up coffee?

Ben: Well, I tried to give up coffee about a year ago, but then I started falling asleep at work. My doctor says I must try again.

Instructor: Well, we can give you some help with that. It's really important at least to cut down on the amount of coffee you drink. Now if you'll come with me, I'm going to do a few checks and then we'll make a plank for you.

Ben: Ok. Thanks.


So, in the highlighted sentences I am dubious about this excerpt: "No, I wouldn't say I had a healthy diet exactly". I have a feeling that it should be something like this: "No, I wouldn't say I have a healthy diet". Since he says that he still likes fast food too much, I believe it would be more coherent. Nevertheless I might be wrong :D

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  • I've been speaking English all my life, and I wouldn't say "had" in that context, not ever. The question is: "Do you have...?" I would therefore only respond: "No, I wouldn't say I have..." Saying "had" is a tense mismatch, and "had" is certainly not in the subjunctive as there is no grammatical call for it to be. Since this question is based on an error, I don't think it's answerable, not in accordance with EL&L's user guidelines. Jun 26 at 18:19
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Your instinct seems correct to me. Since the instructor is asking a question in reference to the present tense; "do you have?" then the response should follow suit; "I wouldn't say I have..."

To be fair, though, I am speaking from experience with American English while your dialogue appears to use British English (eg "I take some exercise"). So, while I believe the usage of Have vs. Had should be consistent across both languages, my response might be incorrect for your specific question.

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    [If you asked me] I would not say that I had... seems acceptable to me as a British English speaker. Jun 26 at 7:25
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In my opinion, your idea of using a present tense `have' is fair. However, it also sounds natural to use a past tense as in the original text, expressing that the speaker has never had a healthy diet in his whole life, which is a stronger claim than just not eating healthily at the moment.

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