Sample questions and answers


Please help! Where would the apostrophe go on a poster advertising a talent show at our school which is called St. Swithun’s School? We want to call the show ‘St. Swithun’s Got Talent’ meaning St.Swithun’s School HAS got Talent! Should it be St Swithun’s Got Talent or St. Swithuns’ got Talent or with 2 apostrophes, one for the possession and one for the contraction?

Well Sarah, that’s a very good example of the difficulties this old item of English language leads us in to. I would say you have two options. The first is to use “St Swithin’s Got Talent”: everybody would understand what was meant. The second (if you want to appease any pedants in advance) is to use “St Swithun’s has Got Talent”, which is grammatically correct, but a bit clumsy.

There is no such thing as a double apostrophe – so you can forget that option.

Note that this is also a good exmple of how the disappearance of the apostrophe would make no difference at all. “St Swithuns Got Talent” is perfectly comprehensible and unambiguous. Also note that you do not need a full stop after St (the contraction of Saint).

I didn’t realise that there was a Saint Swithun, as well as a Saint Swithin! For lots more on understanding the apostrophe, have a look at –



Hi – English is my passion, but not my native language. I am having an argument with my friend about its. For example, we can say: “This is my book OR This book is MINE.” Now is the following example correct? “This is my cat’s paw,” OR “It is ITS.” Is “It is ITS” correct?

I’m afraid not. The term its is a possessive pronoun (just like mine) but it does not behave in the same way grammatically. It is used before a noun. So you could say “The cat licks its paw” or “The dog is wagging its tail”. But you can’t say “It is its” in the same way as you could say “It is mine”.

For lots more help on pronouns, have a look at –

redbtn Pronouns.

Personal management

I’m in the first year as an undergraduate with the Open University. My circumstances have recently changed so that I have to look after one of my parents. I’m under pressure from the family to give up my studies but that would really upset me as I’m doing well. How can I justify being what they see as selfish?

Dear Anna – Phew! That’s a tough situation for you. Perhaps you could call a family meeting and tell them that your studies are crucial to your wellbeing. List the care jobs that need to be done for your parent and ask for volunteers or for financial help to buy the care that is needed. You would not make a very good carer if you were deeply resentful at having made such a sacrifice.

The other option is to maybe have a study break for a few months until the situation has stabilised. The only problem with this, however, is that you may feel distanced and tempted to give it up. Ask the OU student services if they can arrange some sort of deferrment for you. But only interrupt your studies as a last resort. The OU helpline number is +44 (0) 845 300 6090

Essay planning

I have to write an essay on two aspects of care (nursing). I would like to do my essay on HIV and Cognitive impairment and the effectiveness of antiretrovirals. I have to write about the biological underpinning of these aspects but am not sure what sort of things to include in the essay, for example should I start with the history of HIV. I am really stuck. Any tips??

Hi Kate – Those are fairly advanced topics (and out of my realm of expertise) but here are a few suggestions.

1. Be careful about starting essays with ‘The history of …’ – because that has two potential dangers

  • it can easily become boring
  • it can commit you to a very long piece of work

2. Having said that, a BRIEF historical summary might make a good OPENING.

3. What you might do is identify some key topics [I am just guessing here]

  • nature of the disease
  • its effects
  • possible cures
  • recent research
  • public policy

4. You also need to arrange your topics in some sort of logical or persuasive order

5. See if you can locate examples of successful essays on similar subjects – and look at their STRUCTURE

Here are some guidance notes taken from our Essay Writing software program.

Sample questions from writers Planning essays

Sample questions from writers Generating ideas

Sample questions from writers Essay topics

I hope that helps as a starter – Get back to me if you need more help.


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