The sentence below shows age restriction for swimming:

The boys who are 16 years old are allowed to swim.

What if I write this sentence? Does it have the same meaning?

The boys who are allowed to swim are 16 years old.

  • It would be helpful if you add why you think they are different. Otherwise we are just proofreading.
    – user3169
    Jul 27, 2015 at 23:08

3 Answers 3


The boys who are 16 are allowed to swim.

means any boy who is 16 years old is allowed to swim. (maybe no other group), in this case you'd better drop the "the" to make it general (as it is in the comments)

The boys who are allowed to swim are 16.

means the boys who are allowed to swim (for any reason) are 16 (maybe by accident!)

The first sentence say who is allowed to swim and is more precise, while the second sentence can imply that you are describing an attribute of the people who get allowed to swim.

  • 3
    There's truth to this, but it's not clear cut. The first sentence could also be interpreted to mean that the age of the boys is coincidental. Dropping the word "the" would help: "Boys who are 16 years old are allowed to swim." This would make it refers to boys in general and not some specific group of boys. But if you really wanted to be clear, I'd reword the sentence. Like, "Only boys who are 16 years old are allowed to swim."
    – Jay
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:08
  • @Jay thank you, I edited the answer to reflect your point
    – Ahmad
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:18
  • @Ahmad. how about these 2 sentences? is there any difference between them? the books that have red covers are new. the books that are new have red covers. thanks a lot for the answer.
    – amin
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:28
  • @amin Here we see how our understanding of the real world changes our interpretation of the sentence. In the case of boys who are allowed to swim, I might well interpret the sentence to mean that there is an age requirement, because it's common for their to be minimum age requirements for various activities. But in the case of new books, I really wouldn't expect there to be a rule that all new books must have red covers, so if I read these sentences, my assumption would be that this is describing a coincidental feature of the books. I can recognize the new books because they have red ...
    – Jay
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:35
  • ... covers, or they just happen to have red covers. It is, of course, possible that the school puts red paper covers over all new books to identify them, or that the government just passed a law stating that all new books must have red covers. But unless the text spelled something like that out, I wouldn't normally assume it.
    – Jay
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:36

They are absolutely not the same.

First sentence

  • Boys who are 16 are allowed to swim.

This means that 16-year-old boys may swim. It doesn't say whether OLDER boys may swim (nor wheher YOUNGER boys may swim, though the typical reader would assume they may not.) To clarify, you might want to say:

  • Only boys who are 16 or older may swim

But there are two things wrong with this rephrasing:

  • 1) do any girls get to swim? the original did not specify, but the rephrasing excludes them!

  • 2) someone who is, say, 30 is older than 16 but is not a "boy". Will he be allowed to swim?

So, what to say? Maybe this:

  • If you are a male, you must be at least 16 to swim [here].

Second sentence:

  • Boys who are allowed to swim are 16.

This means that all boys allowed into the [swimming place] will be 16 years old—no more; no less. No 8-year-olds, no 19-year olds, nothing but 16-year olds.

This is quite different from the default understanding of the first sentence (16 or older). Try this:

  • Males are allowed to swim if they are 16 or older.

Technically, both sentences mean the same thing: the event of being 16 years old and the event of being allowed to swim happen at the same time.

However, think about what these phrases look like when re-worded to speak directly to one of those boys who is too young to swim:

When you're 16, you'll be allowed to swim.


When you're allowed to swim, you'll be 16.

Consider which information is more important, especially when told to a boy who is too young to swim. Such a person wants to know when they are allowed to swim, not when they will turn 16 (the latter being more easily determined by the event of their birthday).

Therefore the first form, which informs the boy of when they will be allowed to swim by using their 16th birthday as a point of reference, is the preferable sentence. The second form may provide the same information, but it's confusing because it's backwards with regards to the boy's interests.

On the other hand, consider an alternate scenario, e.g. in which a parent is visiting a summer camp to inspect it before sending their son to attend. The strict parent sees a group of rowdy boys swimming in a lake and is concerned that their son is too young to swim with them, and so asks the tour guide how old they are. The tour guide could reply:

"The boys who are allowed to swim are 16."

because the parent knows the boys are allowed to swim, but wants to know their age.

In short: both sentences mean the same thing, but one may be more appropriately worded than the other depending on the context.

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