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This is what I hear from a voice in TOEFL exam:

" ... If they start cutting back the meals and we can't get what we want here on campus, well, we are going to go off campus and pay off-campus prices. And you know what? That'll be expensive. Even if it's only two or three mornings a week, it can/can't add up."

Which one is correct? can or can't?

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It depends on what you want to say.

In this context "it can add up" means "Over the course of time, this is going to start to get more expensive than we would like."

Contrarily, "it can't add up" would be used if you want to say "It must not be allowed to get as expensive as that."

Alternatively, "it can't add up" can also be used in the context "it doesn't add up", which means "it doesn't make (financial) sense".

Or, it means "if you compare it against (some figure, or budget allocation), the numbers are inconsistent (that is, the outgoing is greater than what is allocated)."

On balance, if it were me saying this sentence, I would expect to use "it can add up", and I expect that is probably the correct thing to say here.

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It can add up.

Add up is being used in the sense of addition — the cost of the food will sum together to a high total cost.

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  • Is the exam in American English or British English? In general, in British English you'll hear a really clear difference in the vowel sound between can and can't. Try comparing it with the "can't" in your first sentence. – BeginTheBeguine Jan 7 at 11:49
  • More to the point, the American accent is more likely to lose the "t" from "can't". British English is spoken in a number of different accents, in some of which the "a" of "can" sounds more similar to the "a" of "can't" than in others. But either the "t" will be there, or there will be a definitely audible glottal stop. – Prime Mover Jan 7 at 11:50
  • Hi @BeginTheBeguine, I made the comparison that you mentioned; it turned out that it is most probably "can" ; and the test is in American English. Thanks. – Alish Jan 7 at 12:37

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