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I came across this problem last Sunday when talking to my brother and mother. We were in the car, my brother in the back seat, and me and Mother in the front...

Bro. : "So, Mom, what are you reading at the moment?"
Me : Um... She's driving?
Mom(didn't hear me) : "I'm reading Agatha Christie. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd."

In this conversation, my Mom understood my brother to mean the book she is reading, but hasn't finished, while I understood it as "right now." Is there another way of phrasing it concisely without having to resort to something like:

"So, Mom, what are you reading at present, not at this exact moment, but the book that you haven't finish yet?"

Ideas please?

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I think in context the original question is quite clear. –  edA-qa mort-ora-y Jul 4 '11 at 11:32
    
@Ham Hi Ham! I was just wondering, are you a native English speaker? You can in fact use "now" to mean "at this time generally" (as well as "precisely at this moment"). Note that you can completely omit a time reference, to imply this general time. For example "What are you reading?" or "What is our speed?" In both cases, the implication is "now" or "at this general time." –  Joe Blow Jul 4 '11 at 11:36
    
@Joe Blow, what about this scenario. I come upon my child lying upon the sofa reading a magazine. I say "What are you reading?" Wouldn't that mean the same as "What are you reading now?" –  Thursagen Jul 4 '11 at 11:41
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@Ham Hi Ham -- to be clear, YES, your example is correct. That is precisely what I explained above! Heh! "What are you reading?" is absolutely totally identical to "What are you reading now?" In general if you OMIT a mention of time, then the discourse does in fact refer to the CURRENT (or 'now') temporal reality. It's just one of those deeply disturbing things about language, English in particular! I still want to know if you are a native English speaker! –  Joe Blow Jul 4 '11 at 11:43
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@Ham: 'at the moment' or 'currently' are both ambiguous as to 'this exact point in time' or 'these days' or 'in the middle of'. The pragmatics of the situation helps disambiguate. If you're the one driving, it is very obvious that you can't also be reading, so is probably not what was intended. You may well have been reading at that moment and so that implication may have been more in your head. –  Mitch Jul 5 '11 at 3:36
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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

"What are you currently reading?" or "What's your current book?"

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@ sjl, thanks for this great suggestion! –  Thursagen Jul 4 '11 at 11:42
    
It's a good suggestion, but it is extremely formal. I would probably go so far as to say it would never be used in normal day-to-day speech. –  Joe Blow Jul 4 '11 at 11:53
    
I don't really see how that's any different from "what are you reading at the moment?" - the same confusion could, theoretically, still occur. "Um - she's not currently reading, she's currently driving!" –  Waggers Jul 4 '11 at 12:30
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Somewhat confusingly, it is very common to say "What are you reading at the moment?"

In that sentence, "at-the-moment" does not mean this exact second, but rather, "currently," "this week," "as opposed to the previous and following books."

I feel the general answer to your question is most usually simply "now" ... which effectively means "currently."

"What are you reading now?"

"What are you currently reading" sounds rather stilted, overly-formal. I can't recall an instance of anyone actually using that phrase when asking me what I'm currently reading. People just say "What are you reading now?" or (confusingly!) "What are you reading at the moment?"

However, you may wish to note my two comments above under your question!

It's a very subtle issue - Anytime you deal with "time" in language, it is incredibly colloquial and has a vast amount of assumed knowledge. (It is a particularly difficult problem for AI language researchers.)

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Blow, nice you pointed out that "What are you currently reading" is not often used. –  Thursagen Jul 4 '11 at 11:43
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'currently' works just fine for me, and is not stilted. –  Mitch Jul 4 '11 at 13:00
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If you mean to be more general, these days also works:

What are you reading these days?

That can ask what books specifically:

I'm about halfway through The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Or what kinds of reading materials in general:

I've been reading a lot of mysteries and detective novels this past month.

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