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I have a US Army friend and he had a military exercise a few months ago. I texted him

Are you exercising tonight?

during exercise period. I learnt that present continuous can be used for future tense. for example

We are having a party at my house on Halloween

This is why I used present continuous in the sentence. However, I read a grammar book again and it said I should use present tense when plans are fixed like a timetable.

I guess a military exercise is a fixed plan. Should I have texted him

Do you have an exercise tonight?

using present tense instead of present continuous?

Are you having an exercise tonight?

also wrong in that situation?

  • There should be a capital A in US Army. – Tristan Nov 15 '13 at 15:09
  • and lower case "h" in "He" or you are deifying him ;) – mplungjan Nov 15 '13 at 15:40
  • Neither of the last two sentences are really correct -- "have an exercise" or "having an exercise". "Have a party" is a correct verb phrase, but not "have an exercise". I would only use present tense for incredibly fixed things, like literally things with a timetable like a plane or train: "Does the train leave at 9:30 PM?" (with the implied meaning of "tonight"). Even if someone always went to church regularly at 9 am every Sunday, I would never ask "Do you go to church tomorrow?"; I would ask "Are you going to church tomorrow?" – Jordan Reiter Nov 15 '13 at 15:45
  • user57018, that is because US Army is a shorter way of writing United States Army, which is a name of something in particular. – Tristan Nov 15 '13 at 16:05
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In answer to your larger question: "Should present continuous be used when plans are fixed like a timetable?"

I would argue that it will never sound wrong to use present continuous for asking questions about the future, but will rarely sound correct to use present tense to do so.

It technically may be more correct (according to this grammar book at least, I certainly have not noted this in English!) to write:

Does the train leave tonight at 9:30?

rather than

Is the train leaving tonight at 9:30?

But it will (to my ear at least) always sound wrong to say:

Do you go to school after work?

instead of

Are you going to school after work?

  • You helped me a lot to understand how to use present tense for future. I really appreciate it!! You said Neither of the last two sentences are really correct -- "have an exercise" or "having an exercise". What would you say instead of them then? – user57018 Nov 15 '13 at 15:57
  • You can use "going to" future or present continuous: "Are you exercising tonight?" or "Are you going to exercise tonight?" Either one is fine. For some verbs, "going to" will work better. "Are you going to behave yourself tonight?" sounds better than "Are you behaving yourself tonight?" – Jordan Reiter Nov 15 '13 at 17:09
  • But you could say: "Bryan leaves Dallas tomorrow night" if we knew he were taking a flight or a train. – Mari-Lou A Nov 15 '13 at 22:39
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If you are on a military exercise you are not having an exercise but you are ON an exercise. It is not fitness.

So the correct sentence would be

Are you on an exercise tonight?

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