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?

  • 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
  • 1
    There's also the English Language Learners
    – Kris
    May 19 '14 at 5:23

The latter. "We have not been smoking" would normally cover from some unspecified past time until the present.


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.


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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