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Is he still smoking? vs Does he still smoke?

Which aspect would be correct, progessive or simple? In my opinion, the first question sounds somehow better, however, I think the second question is grammatically more correct, as smoking is a habit simple aspect should be used...

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Does he still smoke? is generic; Is he still smoking? is ambiguous. It can refer to the duration of his current cigarette, a real progressive; or it can be generic, in which case it's identical to Does he still smoke?. – John Lawler May 23 '13 at 17:33
up vote 0 down vote accepted

They are both grammatically correct.

"Does he still smoke?" would be clear and unambiguous, so this would be the wiser choice. If you were waiting for someone to come back from a smoking break you may ask "Is he still smoking?", which by process of elimination, I assume is not what you want to ask.

Although both questions could mean the same thing, it is generally better to avoid ambiguities.

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Adding to and generalising Sam's answer:

  • Does he still ... relates to an habitual task or action
  • Is he still ... relates to a currently ongoing task or action
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As John Lawler says, and Sam implies, the second is actually ambiguous. – Colin Fine May 23 '13 at 18:22

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