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  1. He seldom has fatty food.

  2. He is seldom having fatty food.

Choose the correct alternative out of the above two sentences. Please specify the reason as well. Grammatically, I believe both are correct.

  • Are you sure the second one is grammatically correct ? – Varun Nair Dec 31 '15 at 9:59
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    If you think they are both correct, then what do you think are the differences between the two? When might we use the first, and when might we use the second? – JMB Dec 31 '15 at 10:06
  • Unable to answer your questions. But, I find both of these sentence have only tense difference. First is present perfect which strongly emphasise on the present however action already done. The second sentence is present continuous which shows the continuity of the action. We do say, I am having dinner. So, is it that here its not showing any continuity but we are just referring to someone's habit so we need not use having fatty food? – Seema Bhukar Dec 31 '15 at 10:30
  • @JMB : Replied to your question. – Seema Bhukar Dec 31 '15 at 10:34
  • In American English, I would say: He is seldom eating fatty foods and it is grammatical. Of course, context always helps. – GoDucks Dec 31 '15 at 14:16
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It is not idiomatic American English (and I don't think it's idiomatic British English either) to say "he is seldom having fatty food".

We use the simple present to express habitual practice.

He seldom has fatty foods.

He rarely eats fatty foods.

But if it's not habitual practice, but an exception to habitual practice, and the exception is not a one-time exception but is happening on an ongoing basis, then there would be a greater chance that we would use the progressive:

He's rarely eating fatty foods these days.

He rarely eats fatty foods these days.

Addendum:

As the "these days" example suggests, we might choose the progressive to convey the idea that what we're doing now is different from what we used to do, or is different from what used to be the norm.

I rarely eat meat.

I'm rarely eating meat now.

They rarely go in to the city to shop.

People are rarely going into the city to shop now.

The first example with "now" would imply that you used to eat meat frequently, the second that people used to go into the city to shop regularly. That implication is what motivates the speaker's choice of progressive here. The adverb is needed, or the context must have established this now-then situation...or the speaker is thinking to herself about how things used to be different.

The aspect reveals the speaker's mind. Ideally, speaker and listener will be on the same wavelength. Adverbs help them get on the same wavelength, so that listening is not 50% mind-reading.

In other words, the progressive partners with infrequency only when there's an implicit or explicit context of prior frequency. Without such context, the simple present will be chosen.

By contrast, we do say things like:

These idiots are always texting when they drive.

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    @CopperKettle No, because He's rarely eating fatty foods is fine. I think the use of the contraction changes how the verb tense and grammaticality is perceived. I wouldn't say He is rarely eating fatty foods is much more idiomatic than the OP's sentence. Too, I've no idea about this so-called "exception to habitual practice" concept; sounds concocted. He's always eating fatty foods (these days) with or without 'these days' is just as good a sentence. Note that it is also with the contraction. – GoDucks Dec 31 '15 at 12:45
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    He's always eating fatty foods. *He's rarely eating fatty foods. I don't think the latter is "fine" i.e. commonly used. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 31 '15 at 12:47
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    @TRomano ^ Says you. But I don't agree. Still no downvote from me, despite this "exception to habitual practice" statement. – GoDucks Dec 31 '15 at 12:50
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    "ongoing exception to habitual practice" is meant to address the "always...rarely" difference in use of the progressive. IMO, we tend not to use the progressive for the ongoing non-practice (he rarely eats fatty foods vs. he is rarely eating fatty foods) unless some implicit or explicit exception to a general rule is involved. <unusual>He's rarely getting into trouble. <usual>He's rarely getting into trouble anymore. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 31 '15 at 12:55
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    Okay, I hear you. But I'm not sure what He's always eating fatty foods has to do with expressing an exception. It expresses a norm. – GoDucks Dec 31 '15 at 13:33
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They both look grammatical to me.

But I see a difference in the meaning:

He seldom has fatty food.

This means that in general the subject seldom has fatty food.

This would be therefore more appropriate to describe the subject's general attitude towards fatty food.

He is seldom having fatty food.

This means that in the current (not better specified) range of time the subject is seldom having fatty food.

This would be therefore more appropriate to describe the subject's attitude towards fatty food in the current (not better specified) range of time.

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