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I'm writing a resume right now targeted towards a specific company. My girlfriend (a classmate) and I were (see, I don't know if that's the right word, hence this question!) the first from our school to be awarded a scholarship from this company.

Is it more correct to say:

Awarded such and such scholarship in 2011. A classmate and I were the first students from my college to be awarded this scholarship.

Or:

Awarded such and such scholarship in 2011. A classmate and I was the first students from my college to be awarded this scholarship.

The first seems much more correct when spoken, but the rule I've been taught is to take the other person out and use the words that make sense about just you.

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For what it's worth, "I was one of the first [two] students from my college to be awarded this scholarship." looks better to me. –  JeffSahol Sep 16 '11 at 18:29
    
Or better "I was the second student from my college to be awarded this scholarship." –  Daniel Sep 16 '11 at 18:52
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5 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

And links two things (e.g. a classmate and I), and results in a plural subject (A classmate = 1, I = 1, so a classmate and I = 1 + 1 = 2), so were is correct:

Awarded such and such scholarship in 2011. A classmate and I were the first students from my college to be awarded this scholarship.

The rule you refer to applies only to figuring what case of pronoun to use (e.g. I or me), not to whether you should use singular or plural (e.g. was or were). When you use the rule to figure out which of I or me is correct, you should alter the number of the verb (were becomes was) and direct object (students becomes student) when you take out the other person:

A classmate and I were the first students becomes I was the first student (correct).

A classmate and me were the first students becomes Me was the first student (incorrect).

When you add the classmate back into the sentence, you can be assured of the proper pronoun (I, not me).

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the rule I've been taught is to take the other person out and use the words that make sense about just you.

This rule should be applied to what pronoun you're going to use, not what verb form: should you say "Bob went to the store with Mary and I"? Take Mary out of the sentence, and you're left with "Bob went to the store with I" which is obviously wrong.

For pluralization, if you can reasonably substitute a plural pronoun, then you should use a plural verb. "A classmate and I" -> "we" -> "we were" -> "A classmate and I were".

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The verb were agrees with the plural subject, "A classmate and I". The singular "student" should be plural "students" in both examples.

You might say "I was one of the first two x students to be awarded this scholarship" (where x is name of college) to better emphasize your achievement and avoid the non-specific and distracting phrase, "a classmate".

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A compound subject (e.g., classmate and I) requires a plural verb (e.g., were) because it refers to more than one person.

To simplify this and avoid technical terminology, let's replace the entire subject with a pronoun. Here, you replace "classmate and I" with "we." "We" and "a classmate and I" mean the same thing and are, therefore, interchangeable. (Notice that the previous sentence, too, has a compound subject: " 'we' and 'a classmate and 'I.' " That compound subject can be replaced with the pronoun "they," which requries a plural verb: "mean.")

You will say "we were" and not "we was." Now let's put the original subject back in place, giving us "a classmate and I were."

Compound subjects are always plural. On the other hand, if you use "or" rather than "and," you will need a singular verb.

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If the subject of the phrase is in the form A and B, then the verb uses the form for the third person plural; if the subject of the phrase is in the form A or B, then the verb uses the form for third person singular.

Audrey and Patricia know her. (Both of them know her.)
Audrey or Patricia knows her. (One of them knows her.)

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