“Were” Vs “Was”: Correct Use And Examples

Have you ever wondered which word fits into a sentence — were or was? You’re not alone.

Were or Was: Know the Difference

Many words in English take two forms. One, the plural form, “were,” is found in a phrase like “We were there.” And another, the singular form, “was” found in a phrase like “He was angry.”

When writing a text, students sometimes interchange the words “were” and “was.” It is easy to tell the difference between these two words, but it might be challenging to know how to use them.

Learning about the correct usage of the two forms in English writing may help you avoid misusing them. So, let’s explore the difference between these two.

Were” and “was” are both past tense forms of the verb “to be,” meaning “to exist or live.” The main difference between these two words is that one (was) is singular, whereas the other (were) is plural. The word “was” refers to a single party or entity.

On the other hand, the word “were” is typical in referring to numerous parties or entities.

You’ll understand the correct usage of these words with the sentences below.

  • James was in London last weekend.
  • I was at the mall yesterday.
  • Rebecca was sleeping when I walked in.
  • The girls were sleeping when their father called.
  • We were happy to see the Governor.
  • Her relatives were saddened by the turn of events.

When to use “was.”

Use “Was” with the first-person singular (I) and the third-person singular (he/she/it). ‘Was’ is a past tense indicative form of ‘to be.’ This past indicative form is used in discussing reality and known facts.

Examples of “was” in sentences.

  • I was at the church.
  • She was late for the ceremony.
  • Sarah was drinking at the bar

These are all singular subjects in a past-tense situation.

When to use “were.”

Use Were with the second-person singular and plural (you, your, yours), first-person plural (we), and third-person plural (they).

For example:

  • You were at the mall when the doctor came in.
  • We were in the house cooking donuts.
  • They were just about to leave.

Were is also used to describe the subjunctive mood, a verb form for unreal or theoretical statements. This form is typical when being wishful or talking about one’s hopes and dreams.

For example:

  • I wish it were colder outside.
  • If I were a rich man, I’d own a fleet of cars.
  • Janet wishes she were taller than her siblings.
laptop on the table, woman sitting and writing with a pen in a book
Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

To Wrap Up

Were or was? Always use “was” for the first and third-person singular and in statement facts. Use ‘Were’ with the second-person singular and plural and third-person plural. You can also use it in the subjunctive mood to indicate unrealistic, wishful, or conditional statements.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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