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Would it be correct to say that "in the exam" can mean 1. "during the exam", 2. "on the exam" =in the exam paper, 3. "at the exam"=location? For example,

  1. "I answered the examiner's questions in the exam." During.

  2. "I answered the examiner's questions on/in the exam." In the exam paper.

  3. "I answered the examiner's questions in the exam." Location.

Are my sentences correct?

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    If you answered the examiner's questions on the exam, that would normally mean he'd asked you questions about the exam (an unlikely scenario). But note that preposition in is potentially vague / ambiguous in your cited example anyway. It could imply during [the time period within which you were taking the exam], OR it could imply "location" (in either your completed exam answer papers, or the location where the exam was held). Also note that it's ambiguous as to whether the examiner's questions were posed within the exam, or somewhere else. May 23, 2021 at 14:15
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    All of those (and doubtless several more) are possible "meanings" to in when used with something like an exam. Up to and including the possibility that the examiner asked the speaker some questions during an exam conducted at some point in the past (maybe years ago), and speaker is simply reporting that he has just provided the answers to those questions (but perhaps the examiner hasn't and never will get to see those answers). May 23, 2021 at 16:07
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    Yes. The "target" of in could be the act of answering, the examiner, or the exam itself. And the "scope" of the preposition could refer to the period of time during which the exam took place, or the text of the exam (questions read by the speaker, OR answers written by him). And probably it can mean other things that haven't specifically occurred to me yet. May 23, 2021 at 16:13
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    I don't know what you mean by "last week during an exam I was asked a question and answered it". Was the question posed within the exam paper, or did someone come up and talk to you? Did you answer on the exam output paper, or in some other way? May 23, 2021 at 16:15
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    This is a fairly pointless line of enquiry. You must know by know that English prepositions are very flexible. Which isn't normally a problem, because context usually makes it obvious exactly what's meant, and if not you can normally ask the speaker for clarification. Asking exactly what a relatively simply utterance "means" in a relatively contextless situation isn't going to teach anyone much. May 23, 2021 at 16:18

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Your examples are not incorrect, but they are not very specific. So it's not that "in" means during, but it can be used when you mean during. Or "in" can be used when the speaker/writer means other things.

So if you want to clearly communicate a specific meaning, you might want to use a more specific preposition, and/or specify whether you mean an exam paper, period, room, or something else.

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  • Thank you all for your answers! May 23, 2021 at 17:04

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