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Tutor profile: Katie D.

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Katie D.
Tutor of all things related to English
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Questions

Subject: Writing

TutorMe
Question:

Can I use 'they' as a third person singular pro-noun in academic writing?

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Katie D.
Answer:

In 2015, the American Language Association announced the singular, third person pronoun 'they' as their word of the year. Merriam-Webster chose the same word in 2019. The use of 'they' as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun goes back much farther than the 21st century and was used by Shakespeare. Using the singular, gender-neutral 'they' in academic writing can help you escape the clumsiness of referring to 'one' or the more awkward 'he or she' often seen in older writing. Many college professors consider it acceptable and progressive in student writing, and even use it in their own publications. However, many professors are still upset by the plural/singular disagreement that arises from a singular 'they' and do not approve its use in academic writing. If your professor allows the use of singular 'they' then it is a perfectly acceptable format for academic writing of which you should take advantage. If the singular 'they' is a pet peeve, however, it is best to avoid it.

Subject: Religious Studies

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Question:

Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy?

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Katie D.
Answer:

Buddhism teaches a path for people to take to end suffering in the world that is caused by attachment. Many people consider Buddhism a philosophy because it doesn't require any specific beliefs. Buddhism was a movement that came out of Hinduism and many of the doctrines and teachings of Buddhism do rely on a belief in reincarnation. Therefore, some instead prefer to describe it as a non-deistic religion because it requires belief, but not in a god. It is possible to live according to Buddhism principles without believing in reincarnation and there are many secular Buddhist interpretations that take the way of life offered by Buddhism and leave behind the traditional religious beliefs and trappings. Buddhist teachings themselves describe belief as attachment to an idea, and advocate the absence of all such attachments--even to Buddhism itself. It is impossible to answer this question definitively one way or the other because of the difficulty of defining 'religion.' Buddhism functions as a religion in many cultures throughout the world, and dismissing it as philosophy is ignorant and harmful. Religious philosophy is a field of study in its own right, and religion and philosophy overlap in many places besides Buddhism. Ultimately, looking at Buddhism as both a religion and a philosophy is more open-minded and inclusive than trying to definitely assign it to one or the other.

Subject: Literature

TutorMe
Question:

Why doesn't Beowulf have a happy ending?

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Katie D.
Answer:

The Anglo-Saxon epic 'Beowulf' can be read as a pretty straightforward adventure story in which the hero, Beowulf, fights a monster, Grendel, receives a rich reward, and goes on to become a king in his own country. However, the author of the epic chose not to end the story there but instead tells of how Beowulf's kingdom was attacked by a fierce dragon and the hero, now in his old age, dies fighting it and is buried in a funeral that foretells the destruction of the land. There are several reasons why the poet may have included this dreary ending instead of ending on an epic, high note of victory. Anglo-Saxon culture was influenced by Norse sources, and Norse people play a part in the 'Beowulf' epic. Norse sagas frequently allude to the Viking awareness of Ragnarok, the ending of the world, and 'Beowulf' may have been echoing this cosmological sense of doom by using the death of Beowulf and the decay of the kingdom as a metaphor for the end of the world. Another possibility is that the poem was written rather late in the Anglo-Saxon world, after the coming of Christianity to Great Britain, which brought a lot of changes for the previous, pagan way of life. The death of Beowulf and the destruction of the kingdom might have had a more immediate meaning for the author's contemporary audience; signifying the passing away of the old way of things and an ushering in of the new. Finally, the three monsters of 'Beowulf' (Grendel, Grendel's Mother, and the Dragon) may be interpreted at the three stages of life: youth, maturity, and old age. Taken in this context, it wouldn't make sense to end the epic two-thirds of the way through an illustration. There are as many interpretations to the dragon fight in 'Beowulf 'as there are authors to write on it--including you! It is impossible to know what the original author truly intended, but by looking at historical context, literary influences, and extended metaphors we can achieve a deeper understanding of the characters and audience of 'Beowulf' and it's importance in the canon of English literature.

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