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Today my students were given the following transformation sentence as part of their FCE exams:

I am reading a book which is irrelevant to school work.


The book I am reading is ..................... school work.

Can you please tell me how to do it?

The obvious would be:

The book I am reading has nothing to do with school work.

But the exercise asks us to use is, not has.

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ELL is a better site for this question. – Mitch May 19 '13 at 16:05
@Mitch And even better for the answers and comments. – StoneyB May 19 '13 at 22:27

The easiest answer is this:

The book I am reading is irrelevant to school work.

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But could that really be what the question wants you to do? It would be...trivial. – Cerberus May 19 '13 at 15:52
@Cerberus: Yes, that's the answer that the question wants. How do I know? I'm a long-time EFL teacher. The FCE is the First Certificate in English exam. This is the kind of stuff they ask. It's not difficult if you're a native speaker. What it's asking the testee to do is to rephrase the sentence without a relative pronoun & clause: say the same thing in slightly different words. What else could the question be asking? Trivial? Yes & no. Only native & fluent speakers can do this. – user21497 May 19 '13 at 16:31
I'm afraid you've got the right of it, Bill. I've taken a lot of exams in my life, and the one thing I've learned is not to overestimate the subtlety of questions of standardized exams. That's not what they're for. – John Lawler May 19 '13 at 17:22
@JohnLawler: Right. Standardized exams are hurdles created for the sake of creating hurdles. They become a cottage industry, then a big business, then a major player in the WTO as well as the domestic economy. I consider them to be in the same league as the betel nut business here in Taiwan. Everyone knows chewing betel nuts causes oral cancer & growing betel nut palms guarantees soil erosion & landslides during typhoons & torrential rains, but too many Taiwanese earn a living by hawking them. Big ESL, meet Big Tobacco & Big Betel Nuts. Homozygous triplets. :-) – user21497 May 19 '13 at 17:48
All right, if you say so. I wasn't sure because I have never seen such a trivial transformation in a test, but I have less experience than you. – Cerberus May 19 '13 at 19:09

The book I am reading is nothing to do with (my) school work. (!)

from Collins at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nothing :

have or be nothing to do with: to have no connection with

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Wow! But take a look at Google Ngram Viewer for those phrases: "0" of "is nothing to do with". COCA shows 15 vs. 2413 for is vs. has. I doubt that the FCE will accept "The book I am reading is nothing to do with school work." "The book I am reading is irrelevant to school work." is still the better answer: shorter & uses the same word (irrelevant) as the original S. That's how test-makers think. I couldn't reach the BNC because of constant timeouts. – user21497 May 20 '13 at 1:09
So 250 000 (admittedly raw} Google hits for "is nothing to do with" means nothing to them! – Edwin Ashworth May 20 '13 at 7:46
Correct! Those who construct standardized tests are not egalitarians or politically liberal linguistic descriptivists. They believe that there are right & wrong ways of using the language in every instance. These are the actual members of the Academy that John Lawler constantly dismisses as phantoms. They're all Freemasons & certifiable relatives of Sophie Neveu, the heroine of The Da Vinci Code, who is a direct descendant, if you remember, of Jesus & Mary Magdalene. Therefore, what they say has the force of divine right: they are the grammar gods. – user21497 May 20 '13 at 8:00
The book I am reading is more fun than school work. And probably makes better sense. – Edwin Ashworth May 20 '13 at 16:54
Yes, that's true, but making sense isn't the point: Tell me what I'm thinking! is what most standardized tests are about. Good, clear, understandable, idiomatic English isn't what it's about: Give me the answer I want! is the rule. – user21497 May 21 '13 at 1:39

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