I have an exam in a few days

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Xander2024

Senior Member
Russian
Hello everyone,

I was talking to an American the other day and he said, "I have an exam in a few days". The sentence set me thinking because I'd have said "I'm having an exam in a few days". Today, I raised this question while we were texting and he said, "We don't say, I am having an exam in a few days. We would say, I have an exam in a few days".
He said it was hard to explain, but saying "I'm taking an exam in a few days" would be correct while "...having an exam..." would be wrong.
Then, when I asked whether "I'm having lunch with Helen tomorrow" was correct, he said yes and added that it would also be correct to say "I have lunch with Helen tomorrow" but pointed out that the Present Simple would be used as a response to an invitation to do something else, for example, your friend asks if you want to go to the movies tomorrow. Here you would say "I can't, I have lunch with Helen tomorrow" while "I'm having lunch..." sounds like a statement of fact.
So my question is: does it depend on the type of event (exam / lunch), the verb (have/ take) or something else or is it just a personal preferrence as to which tense to use? Because all of my textbooks say that the Present Continuous, not Present Simple is used for personal arrangements.

I didn't ask him about the remaining options with a future meaning. Thus:

1) I have an exam in a few days.
2) I'm having an exam in a few days.
3) I'm going to have an exam in a few days.
4) I'll be having an exam in a few days.
5) I will have an exam in a few days.

Could some other native speakers please tell me whether the first sentence sounds best because it is the shortest? Because according to that American, "I'm going to have an exam in a few days" works too but it is too long. :confused:

Thanks in advance.
 
  • joanvillafane

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    These are the kinds of questions that native speakers never think about until someone asks them. I'll take a stab at it.

    My first reaction is to agree with your friend that "I'm having an exam in a few days" sounds wrong.

    Of the sentences you list above, #1, #3 and #5 are all acceptable, although #5 does not sound conversational.

    I disagree with your friend's statement that "having lunch with Helen" is wrong. I don't see any difference between "I have lunch with Helen" and "I'm having lunch with Helen" as a way of declining an invitation.

    Why is it different with exam? Not sure. But I think the same rules for "exam" apply when I substitute "doctor's appointment." I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow. :tick:
    I'm having a doctor's appointment tomorrow. :cross:
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    1) I have an exam in a few days.
    2) I'm having an exam in a few days.
    3) I'm going to have an exam in a few days.
    4) I'll be having an exam in a few days.
    5) I will have an exam in a few days.

    The verb to have has many meanings, some of which cannot be placed in the continuous form of the verb.

    The main meaning that cannot be continuous1 is when "have" means "possess/own":

    A: Do you own a car?
    B: "I am having two?" :cross:

    In "I have an exam" the meaning is "I have (am in possession of) an appointment to attend an examination."

    Just in case you think that English is too simple, if you say "I am having an examination" - this would mean that someone would be spending time examining you medically. The difference here is that the medical examination is seen as something that takes time and thus the continuous form is appropriate.


    1In fact there may be some very rare cases where it is possible, but I cannot think of one at the moment.

    Crosspost with joanvillefane
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks a lot for the reply, joanvillafane and PaulQ. The example with "a doctor's appointment" is clear as it does not suggest a process. It is just an appointment that I have scheduled (for tomorrow). But I fail to understand why "I'm having lunch with Helen tomorrow" is acceptable in this case. Is "lunch" not an appointment?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The progressive is often used in relation to something having a relatively short term and something deliberate or planned.

    For example, you wouldn't normally say, 'I'm having a headache' if you mean that you are currently suffering from a headache. You'd just say 'I have a headache'. This is because a headache is thought of as being of a long, rather than short, duration and isn't planned. However, people can say, 'She's having one of her headaches'. This usually means that they don't believe that she really has a headache, and perhaps they think that she gives this as an excuse very commonly so as to avoid meeting people and so on. 'Having a headache' is appropriate because this is deliberate and planned.

    Does this explain why we don't say, 'I'm having an exam in a few days' normally?
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks for the reply, natkretep, but this question really has me up a tree. I've just found another thread on this use of "have" where other native speakers say that "I'm having/ I'll be having a meeting on Wednesday" is fine. I just fail to see how "an exam" is different from "a meeting". :confused:
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    A meeting can be planned by you. An exam isn't planned by you.

    We say, 'I'm having a dinner party tomorrow' to mean that you are arranging it. If you attend someone's dinner party, you wouldn't say 'I'm having a dinner party'; you'd say 'I have a dinner party to attend tomorrow'.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    "I'm having/ I'll be having a meeting on Wednesday" here "to have" = "to be engaged in" or "organising" or " to be taking part in"
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Okay, so unless an event is planned by me personally, I can't use the continuous tense? For example, I, as a private tutor, can say "I'm having six lessons tomorrow" whereas each of my students can only say "I have / I'm going to have my English lesson tomorrow", right?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Generally, but I'd use another verb for your example. Perhaps, 'I'm taking six classes tomorrow' or 'I'm teaching six classes tomorrow'.
     
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