I'm preparing for the FCE exam.

They won't let you speak during the exam.

I have to rewrite the sentence using "allowed" so that is has a similar meaning. I wrote:

You will not be allowed to speak during the exam.

But the correct solution is, according to the book

You aren't allowed to speak during the exam.

Could you tell me whether my answer is wrong or there are two possible answers?

Thanks a lot

  • I can think of a dozen more ways to say it. – banging Apr 19 '13 at 14:32
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    "The correct answer" is not necessarily the only answer. More than one answer can be correct. Unless there are other conditions stated with the question. – Kris Apr 19 '13 at 14:40

Will/would is the hardest verb in the English language.

The one they’re using in the first example (“won’t let”) is probably expressing simple permission, not futurity.

The problem with “will not be allowed” is that is the future-related version, not the one related to permission. By switching to be allowed, it makes clear that it is a matter of permission, so that is the right answer — or perhaps, a right answer.

By that I mean that there are occasions in which your answer would also be a correct one, but there is too little surrounding information to determine that here. I can see why they marked it wrong, but I also think they’re being a bit too picky.

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  • But without more context it is impossible to tell whether their "won't" is future or not, so Surfer's answer is certainly correct. – Colin Fine Apr 19 '13 at 14:34
  • @ColinFine Yes, it’s hard to say from so small a snippet; the graders are certainly being finicky here, probably overly so. – tchrist Apr 19 '13 at 14:37

The difference between

You will not be allowed to speak during the exam.


You aren't allowed to speak during the exam.

is that the first is slightly ambiguous: it may mean that only you won't be permitted to speak or that only this time will you not be allowed.

The second sentence, however, means that no one is ever allowed to speak during the exam: it's in the simple present and indicates a habitual state of affairs.

This is a very technical semantic point about why one tense and aspect is used instead of another. In everyday speech and writing, however, most native Anglophones would not make a distinction. It's really unnecessary unless the person being told that they won't be allowed to speak during the exam asks why not. The answer to that will have to be no one is ever allowed to speak during the exam, which means the speaker or writer should have used the habitual present instead of the future with will not be allowed.

Both rewrites mean They won't let you speak during the exam, but that sentence is also ambiguous. It's a stupid question and an arbitrary answer. However, it gives you a clue about how the test makers think -- or fail to think -- as the case may be.

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  • You may have implied this in your answer, but I think it's worth saying explicitly: It seems to me that the distinctions given in this answer are much too subtle for the makers of the FCE exam to care about them. There should be more than one correct answer to this question, and if there's not, it's oversight on the part of the test compilers, and not a subtle distinction that you're supposed to be making. – Peter Shor Apr 19 '13 at 15:22
  • @Peter: Yes, they are too subtle to care about except for people who make tests like this. When the test makers don't see them, they screw up by ignoring the possibility of two correct answers. The end result of each answer is the same: No talking during the exam. It doesn't test the purpose of using language: it merely asks the testee to tell the testers what they're thinking. – user21497 Apr 19 '13 at 16:14

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