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.

  • 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, 2015 at 8:14
  • 3
    Typewriters are not only inanimate, but the last of them disappeared about 20 years ago!
    – WS2
    Jul 22, 2015 at 8:26
  • 3
    But maybe it's a talking typewriter from a Disney cartoon?
    – Ronan
    Jul 22, 2015 at 8:34
  • 11
    Had it said "computer" instead of "typewriter" we'd have needed a date
    – dumbledad
    Jul 22, 2015 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, 2015 at 15:49

1 Answer 1

  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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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". Jul 22, 2015 at 18:21

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