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Given a sentence:

We have not been smoking

What is the exact meaning the speaker wants to express?

One interpretation:

We smoked an hour ago, but we stopped smoking after ten minutes, then we smoked again.

Another interpretation:

We smoked an hour ago, but now we didn't smoke.

Which is correct?

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  • 3
    We did not smoke. We haven't smoked at all. No matter what you think, we have not been smoking. May 19 '14 at 3:55
  • 3rd interpretation: It is not the case that we have been smoking.
    – F.E.
    May 19 '14 at 4:46
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    There's also the English Language Learners
    – Kris
    May 19 '14 at 5:23
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The latter. "We have not been smoking" would normally cover from some unspecified past time until the present.

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It appears to mean 'We have not been smoking [in the last unspecified time frame]'.

The timeframe is derived from context.

For example:

'We have not been fighting!'.

From some children who's parents have just got home, probably means 'We have not been fighting this evening'.

'We have not been eating dairy'.

Would have a larger time frame, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months.

'We have not been smoking'.

It really depends on the context. At a cocktail party where the couple hasn't seen another couple for a while, they may mean that they've quit smoking and haven't smoked in a few weeks/months.

Whereas from a suspicious mother, it might mean that they haven't been smoking this evening.

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We have not been smoking

Usually used when the speaker wants to express that they have not smoked for "X" amount of time and they still do.

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