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  1. Am I interpreting the results correctly?
  2. Do I interpret the results correctly?

Do they have the same meaning? Are both or just one correct?

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5 Answers 5

Certainly either is correct, and they are equivalent in meaning. You're much more likely to hear #1, though. You might hear #2 in a confrontational context.

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If both of those sentences were coming from a native English speaker, then I'd say that they don't convey the same meanings.

#1 is seeking confirmation that the speaker's interpretation of the results up to this point in time has been correct.

#2 sounds a little strange in this context, but is asking for clarification as to whether the speaker should, as a future action, interpret the results correctly (as opposed to, say, deliberately producing an inaccurate interpretation).

A more natural usage of the construction from #2 might be, for example, if someone is asking for directions: "Do I go left or right?"

Coming from a non-native English speaker, I might interpret #2 as meaning the same as #1, on the grounds that some languages don't distinguish between the present continuous (#1) and the simple present (#2) in the same way as English, so it may be difficult for the speaker to know which form is appropriate in cases like this.

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I would interpret #1 as you did -- asking for verbal confirmation of correct verbal interpretation. However, #2 from a native speaker would be the most natural way of asking for confirmation of non-verbal interpretation, e.g. whether the results were interpreted correctly in a review paper. Present progressive wouldn't be indicated, because the interpreting had already been done. –  Ophiuroid Oct 4 '10 at 1:28
    
@Ophiuroid: perhaps this is a regional issue, as to use your example, I'd say either "did I interpret..." or "have I interpreted...". Using "do I interpret"... sounds somewhat odd to me as a British English speaker (and former Londoner). –  Steve Melnikoff Oct 4 '10 at 11:50
    
If I force it, I can get my brain to produce the "should I..." interpretation for #2, but I'd call it exceedingly unlikely in any real-world situation. Though I do agree that the more natural construction is "Did I interpret...". –  Marthaª Nov 10 '10 at 0:43

I think #2 is valid and equivalent to #1, but #2 is less common, not only because English is prone to using the present progressive where other languages would use simple present, but also because #2 is somewhat archaic and sounds more formal. Another common construction with basically the same meaning would be "have I interpreted these results correctly?"

For #2, consider a person making a statement about what they've just heard, followed by "do I understand you correctly?" All of these phrases have the same meaning in context: seeking affirmation.

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Present progressive = present continuous, as far as I can tell. I agree with your comments, anyway. –  Noldorin Oct 3 '10 at 20:40

John McWhorter in Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue makes a really clear case that the present progressive is the true present tense in English. The simple present is used in poetry, for habitual actions, in some idioms, and in certain other situations. For example, it is often used to describe the content of a written text: "The author argues that..." or "King Lear retires and divides his kingdom among his daughters." But when we mean to indicate an action that is going on in the present moment, the present progressive is usually the correct tense.

One exception is in verbs of understanding, perceiving, and knowing. It is almost as if the English language sees the act (or rather state) of knowing as something that does not happen at this moment but rather outside of time entirely and therefore uses the simple present. Your question, I think boils down to whether "to interpret" is one of these verbs of understanding.

I think the answer is ambiguous and has to do with the nuance of meaning that you want to convey. For example, a native English speaker would say, "Do I understand the results correctly?" but also "Am I analyzing the results correctly?" Is your interpretation a state of knowing or an act of analysis? If it is a state of knowing, then "Do I interpret the results correctly?" is the right answer. Otherwise say, "Am I interpreting the results correctly?"

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I wish I could comment because I don't have any particular backing for this, but as an native speaker my understanding of these phrases phrases would be something like this:

  1. "Am I interpreting the results of this specific experiment, under present discussion, correctly?"

  2. "Do you believe that my understanding in this field is sufficient that my interpreation of any particular results is usually correct?"

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1  
As a native speaker don't you add a question mark to the end of question sentences? –  Neeku Aug 24 at 7:54

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