Pronoun Abuse: An Interview Diagnosis

By Anne Guldin Lucas

Stuart Student was in the midst of a terrific interview.  He was in the zone, responding to even the most difficult questions with thoughtful, succinct responses.  Irma Interviewer was smiling and making comments that convinced Stuart he was about to clinch the job offer.  Then he was asked the question for which he had been hoping:  “What was your greatest accomplishment as a Penn student?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Stuart responded, “During our first term at Penn, me and my friend started a program in local homeless shelters to increase the rate of high school graduations and college matriculations among homeless students.  This year, our fourth year of the program, we achieved a 95% success rate.  The Mayor presented she and I with a Philadelphia Citizenship Award.”

A shadow fell across Irma Interviewer’s face, and she muttered something about remembering that they had filled this job opening last week.  As she was showing Stuart to the door, he wondered where he had gone wrong.  Could Ms. Interviewer possibly object to educating children or did his response lack the proper humility?  He didn’t even mention that their picture was on the front page of the DP!

What do you think, reader?  Can you diagnose Stuart Student’s fatal interviewing error?

Yes, it was pronoun abuse!  Whereas Stuart’s opening sentence required that he use a first person pronoun in the subjective (“my friend and I” vs. “me and my friend,”), his last sentence called for objective pronouns (“her and me” vs. “she and I”).  If those grammatical terms are too hard to remember, simply omit Stuart’s friend from the equation, and your ear should guide you to the proper pronouns.  Surely no one would say, “During my first term at Penn, me started a program….The Mayor presented I with…”

Contrast Stuart’s interview experience with that of Stella Student.  Ricky Recruiter asked challenging questions, and Stella was prepared with all the right responses—and proper pronouns.  When asked that fateful question, “What was your greatest accomplishment as a Penn student?” Stella quickly and expertly responded, “During our first year at Penn, my friend and I launched an initiative against Pronoun Abuse.  Having cleared the Penn campus of errant pronouns, the English Department awarded him and me with Distinguished Student Awards.”

Needless to say, Ricky Recruiter’s next words were, “You’re hired!”

P.S. If you are inspired to become Sammy Syntax after reading this blog, you can learn more about pronoun usage by consulting:

Author: Anne Lucas

Anne Lucas is a career counselor at Penn Career Services. Currently, she works with students in the College of Arts & Sciences.

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