What is the difference between was and were?
“Was” and “were” are both past tense forms of the verb “to be.” While they are used interchangeably in some situations, there are certain rules to follow when deciding which one to use in a sentence.
The main difference between “was” and “were” is that “was” is used for singular subjects (e.g., I was, he was, she was) while “were” is used for plural subjects (e.g., they were, we were, you were).
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, “were” can also be used in the subjunctive mood (e.g., if I were you), even when referring to a singular subject.
It is important to use the correct form of “was” or “were” in a sentence to ensure that your meaning is clear and that your writing is grammatically correct.
When to use “was” in a sentence?
The past tense form “was” is used in a sentence when referring to a singular subject. Here are some situations in which you would use “was”:
- To talk about the past: “I was at the store yesterday.”
- To describe a singular noun: “The cake was delicious.”
- In reported speech: “She said she was tired.”
- In conditional sentences, second and third conditionals: “If I was taller, I could reach the top shelf.”
- In indirect questions: “He asked me if I was hungry.”
Remember that “was” is always used with singular subjects, regardless of the tense or form of the sentence.
When to use “were” in a sentence?
The past tense form “were” is used in a sentence when referring to a plural subject. Here are some situations in which you would use “were”:
- To talk about the past: “They were at the park yesterday.”
- To describe plural nouns: “The flowers were beautiful.”
- In reported speech: “He said they were excited.”
- In conditional sentences, second and third conditionals: “If they were here, we could play a game.”
- In indirect questions: “She asked if they were ready.”
Remember that “were” is always used with plural subjects, regardless of the tense or form of the sentence.
Examples of “was” and “were” in different tenses
Here are some examples of “was” and “were” being used in different tenses:
- Simple Past Tense:
- She was happy.
- They were late.
- Past Continuous Tense:
- He was working when she arrived.
- We were talking about you yesterday.
- Past Perfect Tense:
- I had been waiting for hours before she was ready.
- They had been practicing for weeks before the concert was canceled.
- Simple Future Tense:
- She will be here soon.
- They will be late if they don’t leave now.
- Conditional Sentences:
- If I was rich, I would travel the world.
- If they were here, we could play together.
Remember that the choice between “was” and “were” depends on whether the subject is singular or plural, and the tense of the sentence.
Common mistakes to avoid when using “was” and “were”
Here are some common mistakes to avoid when using “was” and “were”:
Confusing singular and plural subjects: Remember that “was” is used with singular subjects and “were” is used with plural subjects.
Using “was” with “if”: When using the conditional “if,” it’s important to use “were” instead of “was” to create the subjunctive mood. For example, instead of saying “If I was rich,” you should say “If I were rich.”
Incorrect subject-verb agreement: Always make sure that the verb agrees with the subject in terms of number. For example, “The dog was barking” (singular) versus “The dogs were barking” (plural).
Overusing “were” in the subjunctive mood: While “were” is used in the subjunctive mood, it is not always necessary. For example, instead of saying “If I were to go,” you can also say “If I went.”
Misusing “was” and “were” in reported speech: When reporting what someone else said, it’s important to use the correct form of “was” or “were” based on the subject of their statement, not the subject of the reporting sentence. For example, if someone said “I was there,” you would report it as “He said he was there,” not “He said he were there.”