Resource | 15.12.2022 | By Teresa Quail

Can the Communication Professional (CP) sign the carrying words of questions?

The words of questions such as ‘Describe‘ ‘Explain’ etc are classed as ‘command words’ (not ‘carrying words’) and should be taught vocabulary.

In Scotland the Communication Professional (CP) can sign the command words of questions e.g Describe/Explain etc.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, there is a different language policy. If such command words are found in source material (typically contained in a border) they must not be changed or signed, and never in an English exam.

There is no mention of command words in the regs for CPJCQ AA regs 22/23 and they are not included in what cannot be signed:

5.13.5 “The Communication Professional must be familiar with the subject being examined and the candidate’s normal way of working. This will ensure that the meaning of the question is not changed and that technical and subject specific terms are recognised and finger spelt. (Technical and subject specific terms must not be signed.)”

Therefore, these can be signed, but the CP must be very careful with these words, signing only the sign which has exactly the same meaning as the written command ie the command words must not explained.

The examiner chooses them carefully to indicate what the candidate is expected to include in the answer and how the answer should be constructed. Incorrectly signing these crucial words may put a candidate off the track.  It is important to also note that the candidate must be aware of the difference between what the answer requires when asked to ‘explain’ as opposed to when asked to ‘describe’ (even though they are the same sign).  This means command words and expected answers from these words needs to be explicitly taught.  Command words are troublesome to interpret/sign because there is so much underlying meaning in each word.


JCQ regs for Language Modifiers (22/23  (5.11.5)

“Must have an understanding of the impact of command words and an examiner’s expectations of a candidate’s answer.”

“(LMs) must take great care if modifying ‘command’ words in questions, such as describe, explain and suggest, as changing such words may change the nature of the question and disadvantage the candidate. In most cases command words should not be modified.

For example, it might be possible to change ‘how far’ to ‘to what extent’ but to use ‘how’ or ‘why’ instead would mean the candidate is not likely to respond as the examiner intended.


Internal training activity suggestion – have a list of the command words and meanings. Cut up the sheet and separate the command words from their meanings. Have fun with the staff matching them all up again.