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I am rattled today when I tried to answer the following question:

"Now that she is fully trained, she hopes to earn her living as a ................. in an office."

Select one:
A. typewriter
B. secretary
C. staff
D. personnel

I think all of the above are correct. Can anyone help me? Please tell which one is correct and WHY other options would be incorrect.

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Jul 23 '15 at 9:08

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  • 19
    Nope. A typewriter is an inanimate object, not a person. Both personnel and staff are mass nouns and so disqualified by the use of the indefinite article a (moreover, they both mean "generic employee", and so the requirement to become "fully trained" in order to work as staff/personnel would be logically incongruous anyway). The only possible answer is B, secretary. – Dan Bron Jul 22 '15 at 8:14
  • 3
    Typewriters are not only inanimate, but the last of them disappeared about 20 years ago! – WS2 Jul 22 '15 at 8:26
  • 3
    But maybe it's a talking typewriter from a Disney cartoon? – Ronan Jul 22 '15 at 8:34
  • 11
    Had it said "computer" instead of "typewriter" we'd have needed a date – dumbledad Jul 22 '15 at 15:30
  • 3
    I do know someone who, when they were very young, said that she wanted to be a typewriter when she grew up. – Jon Hanna Jul 22 '15 at 15:49
67
  1. A typewriter is a machine (now obsolete). A person who uses a typewriter is called a typist. INCORRECT
  2. A secretary is an office assistant, one of whose duties is to write up memos and correspondence (these days usually on a computer). CORRECT
  3. Staff is a group noun (non-count) referring to a group of people. One person can be a member of the staff, but she cannot be "a" staff. INCORRECT
  4. Personnel is a group noun (non-count) referring to a group of people. One person can be part of a company's personnel, but she cannot be "a" personnel! INCORRECT
  • 4
    Good answer. Staff has other potential meanings, depending on context - which would still be incorrect answers for this question. For example "a stick or pole used to aid walking or climbing, that may be used as a weapon". – Peter Jul 22 '15 at 11:17
  • 8
    To be fair, I have seen typewriter refer to a person who uses a typewriter, though not in some time. Note the archaic example on wiktionary. – Etheur Jul 22 '15 at 14:04
  • 4
    @Etheur - I've also seen it that way once or twice. It's similar to how a "computer" used to be a "person who computes things" rather than a machine. – Bobson Jul 22 '15 at 16:04
  • 6
    And a secretary can also be a type of furniture (a desk). And a staff can be a rod/wand/stick. – shoover Jul 22 '15 at 16:36
  • I'd add that some people think secretary is somewhat archaic and not politically correct anymore. They prefer the term "administrative assistant". – Matt Burland Jul 22 '15 at 18:21

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