You will not be permitted to bring any personal items to the test centre, including but not limited to wrist-watch, cellphones, calculators, etc.

I think it means a candidate will not be permitted to bring any items. Is this right or wrong? Please explain with some examples.

  • 1
    Have you searched that very phrase on the internet? Aside from the fact that it should be clear to anyone knowing meaning of to include and to limit. This may help: phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/20/messages/319.html
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 17:51
  • I know this isn't the question, but it's worth noting that "including but not limited to" and "etc." are redundant expressions that mean the same thing: "the things on this list, plus other similar things." A better-written sentence would have used only one of these two expressions. Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 18:56

4 Answers 4


The expression including but not limited to is a convention primarily associated with legal texts and commercial contracts. Apart from the fact that it's used specifically because it is a convention, I'd say it also clarifies and emphasises the scope of the immediately-preceding noun phrase.

It's important to note and emphasises above - that's what makes this usage different to, say, for example or etc. (more informally, and so on, and whatnot).

In OP's exact context, it's significant that the first specific "personal item" is wrist watch. Obviously in some other contexts (being checked in as a prison inmate, for example), "personal items" might include things like earrings and wedding rings. But those items wouldn't be taken from you at a test centre (in prison you can't have valuables that might be stolen; in a test centre you can't have communication / data storage devices that you might cheat with).

Reflecting Grice's Maxim of Relation, the specific items listed after including but not limited to should normally be the best possible examples for the precise context. And the reason wrist watch gets included (but not, say, "necklace") is precisely because some watches can be used as calculators, or for information retrieval.

  • 1
    I think the most important piece is the last paragraph - the author would have included this phrase as a way to provide examples of personal items without limiting the scope of what he is defining as "personal items" to those examples only.
    – mjjf
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 22:14
  • Well, it's literally true that the writer is "covering all bases" by including the phrase (in case it turns out that some enterprising candidate actually has earbuds built in to her programmable earrings so she can call up the answers to the test). But in practice I think my point about best possible exanples is crucial here. I wouldn't have naturally expected wrist watch to be first in the list, for example - but once you think about smart watches, it's abundantly clear what kind of "personal items" they're trying to keep out. Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 14:55
  • (And imho I needed the preceding paragraphs to make it clear why this context would care more about watches than other "valuable jewellery" items that might be more important in a "jail check-in" context.) Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 14:58
  • Sorry, my comment wasn't a criticism, I upvoted :)
    – mjjf
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 15:05
  • I don't know if I included the best possible link for "Grice's Maxims" to introduce that final paragraph, but the underlying principle embodied by all of them is often incredibly useful in working out what any unfamiliar expression / utterance actually means. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 16:34

This is an expression that is frequently used in legal or other kinds of official written texts. By including but not limited to a, b, and c is meant that a, b and c are not exclusive but representative of the wider group. It is used in order "to refer to something in a general way but also make specific mentions of certain things" (incorporated zone).

This set phrase is voluntarily redundant, and by that I mean that including a, b and c would be more than enough and correct to mean that other items are part of the wider group to which a, b and c belong. Lawyers, however, use this phrase keeping in mind that their opposition might accuse them of not being explicit enough. See for example what this law oriented site has to say about the matter:

Legal drafting is always subject to hostile misreadings by opposing parties who will argue that implications aren’t enough [in our case, the implication that no one will misunderstand "including" as introducing a non-exhaustive list; that it clearly implies that not only a, b and c are included, but other items, too].

In more simple words, this phrase is used as an over explicit overstatement, for "fear" of being accused of not covering other possible options that may be of legal consequence.

In your case, it is a bit more simple. This is not a legal statement, but is meant to sound as official and formal as can be. "Wrist-watch, cellphones, calculators" are not exclusive (not the only ones) but representative of the wider group of "personal items".

Think of your sentence in this way:

You will not be permitted to bring any personal items to the test centre, such as (but not only) wrist-watch, cellphones, calculators, etc.

Reading between the lines, you can understand:

If you come with an mp3 player and earphones (or something of the kind), do not tell us that it was not listed in the exam regulations. We stated, and even overstated for that matter, that we did not only mean wrist-watch, cellphones, calculators, but other such personal objects, too. Therefore, by using the expression "including but not limited to" we are covered. If you didn't get it, that's your problem, brush up your English!

Now, your particular sentence does not mean that you should not bring ANY personal item, but that you should not bring any personal item of this kind. You will take a pen to an exam, and you will have clothes on and maybe an earring in your nose and the like. All these are personal items, too, but the examiners will not be concerned with that kind of personal items.

You can find plenty of other examples on Ludwig which will help you become more familiar with the use of this phrase. Here is a simple one:

We cover various topics including, but not limited to: business, technology, culture, media and the future. (meaning: these are some topics, but the list is longer, and we do not pretend we cover them ALL)

Note 1: Don't use the phrase if you don't want to sound pompous and overcorrect. Including is enough! In a legal or official context, including, but not limited to may be recommended or even required, but you'd better ask for advice in drafting declarations or statements.

Note 2: It is interesting and funny at the same time that your sentence states in three ways (!) that the list of personal items it gives, is not exhaustive:

  • including
  • but not limited to
  • , etc. (and others)

Looks like these guys really don't want to get busted for using "inexplicit or inaccurate language"!

  • Another common legal phrase that describes this kind of usage is "for avoidance of doubt".
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 13:41
  • Yes, true, hadn't thought of that! However, "for avoidance of doubt" is not necessarily followed by an enumeration or list of items.
    – fev
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 13:51

Your intuition is right. Here's how I would explain this phrase. The range of items that you will not be permitted to bring with you to the test center include wristwatches, cellphones, calculators and other similar objects. However, there are probably millions of other things a person can take with them when they go somewhere. It would be practically impossible to list every single one of them. So, here we give you a list of the items that you are specifically not allowed to have with you at the test center, but due to the impracticality of listing all possible items that you can't bring with you, the list is not limited to the ones directly specified.

Here's another example:

He has done scientific work in many different fields of science including but not limited to physics, mathematics and biology.

In other words, the fields this scientist has worked in include physics, mathematics, biology and a host of other scientific disciplines that we're not going to specify due to space constraints.


You are right. It says you cannot bring anything belong to you into the test center. The items they show as example are the ones that concern them most, but it's not very reasonable to go anywhere without those items.

I think you can ask them if there's a safe place outside the test room where you can put your stuff while taking the test; such as a coin-operated locker. I recall there's a place where the test takers were asked to leave belongings outside the test room when I took a TOEFL exam long long time ago. I did feel nervous to leave my stuff behind, but fortunately nothing happened. They provided us with pencils in the test room.

If you have your car, you are lucky to leave your stuff in it. Just bring your ID cards and the car key with you.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .