Transforming sentences in English, for the Cambridge English exams, is very difficult, but a simple strategy really helps.
Certain word types are very important in B1 sentence transformations, such as adverbs and phrasal verbs, whilst in FCE dependent prepositions, verb patterns and high level grammatical structures are tested. Click here to access our free FCE Use of English Practice tests (students only).
With transformations you need to follow some simple steps to make sure the sentences mean the same.
Deconstruct and understand the meaning of the first sentence. You cannot get a correct answer unless you understand the first sentence.
To understand the sentence is like running a short computer programme in your brain. You just need to use it and get used to it.
1. What is the time?
This is the most important thing you should be sure of. Only in reported speech will you need to change time in the second sentence. Your verb times must be exactly the same.
David found it hard to concentrate. Time – past simple
David finds it hard to pay attention. Time – present simple NO
David found it hard to pay attention. Time – past simple YES
2. What is the grammar, vocabulary?
There are clues in the second sentence, in B1 PET is there a verb in the second sentence? If no then most likely you are being tested for grammar. If there is a verb then maybe you need vocabulary, a phrasal verb for example.
There are two lions at the zoo.
The zoo has two lions.
In B2 FCE look at the word given, if it’s a preposition then most likely you need a phrasal verb. If it’s a verb then a verb pattern or grammar point is being tested.
My dad collected me from the airport.
My dad picked me up from the airport.
3. What is the subject/object?
This is often not important, except if being tested for reported speech or the passive.
4. What is duplicated?
You must do this as it will tell you only the words you need to transform, see the example below to understand what to do.
5. Is your answer logical?
Does your answer follow the typical structures in English? Is there a missing preposition? Do not try to translate it into Spanish – think only in English and remember the basics!
If the answer to 5 is No then go back to question 1 and do it all again.
If the answer is yes then you probably have it correct.
So here’s a simple B2 FCE transformation.
I don’t spend much money on clothes.
I ____________________ money on clothes.
1. Time = present simple
2. Grammar = active Vocabulary = adverb usage (any)
3. Subject/Object = irrelevant/same
4. Duplication = words to transform = don’t spend much (aux + negation + verb + adverb)
Now you know what is being tested (adverbs) check to see if there is a grammar/vocabulary connection to the first sentence.
In the first sentence much = adverb and in the second sentence you need to use the same type of adverb, any.
Both of these adverbs are neutral, they can be affirmative, or negative if used with not, as in the example.
Think about how to use the grammar. Simplify it.
You cannot only change the adverb as below :
I don’t spend much money on clothes = I spend some money
I don’t spend any money on clothes. = I spend no money NO
Think again! It is impossible to use not in the second sentence because not + any = nothing, nada!
So is there another type of adverb that is negative and can replace not but still = some?Yes – hardly, and a particular adverbial phrase hardly any .
Now test your theory.
spend + hardly + any = some
I (subject) + spend (verb, present simple) + hardly any (adverbial phrase) + money on clothes.
That’s it – the meaning is exactly the same.
I don’t spend much money on clothes.
I spend hardly any money on clothes.
This is something you can do for all grammar. However if you haven’t studied the grammar, asked about doubts in class then you won’t get it right!