Difference between Was and Were

December 13, 2016 by Editorial Team

It is very important to follow grammar rules to communicate effectively. One of the many parts of speech that adds meaning to a sentence is the verb tense. When verb tense is used incorrectly, sentences sound very confusing!

Verb tenses do not only apply to action verbs. Linking verbs, like “is” and “are,” also have past forms, which are “was” and “were,” respectively. These verbs are not interchangeable as their usage depends on the subject. This article will discuss the difference between the two.

Definitions

The verb was is the past tense of the verb “is.” It is used with:

  1. Singular nouns. For example: The test was really easy!
  2. First person singular pronouns. For example: I was watching TV when you called.
  3. Third person singular pronouns. For example: It was very nice to see you at the party last night.
  4. Singular indefinite pronouns (everybody, anybody, somebody, everyone, anything, everything, something). For example: Everyone was so kind and helpful.
  5. Singular countable quantifier pronouns. For example: Well, one was able to get away.
  6. Uncountable quantifier pronouns (enough, little, less). For example: Little was known about the life of Edward Smith.

On the other hand, the verb were is the past tense of the verb “are.” It is used with:

  1. Second person singular and plural. For example: Were you happy with the results?
  2. First person plural. For example: We were tired of waiting, so we left.
  3. Third person plural. For example: They were so rude to that poor guy.
  4. Plural indefinite pronouns. For example: Both were lovely!
  5. Plural countable quantifier pronouns (few, many, more). For example: Many were against it.

It is important to note, however, that the pronoun “I” uses the verb “were” if it is used in the subjunctive mood, or in statements that are not real or are hypothetical. For example:

  1. If I were the President of the United States, I’d give homes to all people living on the street. (unreal statement)
  2. I wish I were in New York! (expresses what I wish to happen)
  3. I’d be a model if I were taller! (hypothetical statement)

Comparison

“Was” is the past tense of “is” while “were” is the past tense of “are.” The verb “was” is generally used for singular and uncountable subjects, both nouns and pronouns. On the contrary, the verb “were” is used when the subject is plural.

Additionally, the verb “were” should be used with the pronoun “I” if it is used in a subjunctive mood, or if the statement talks about something that is not real or just hypothetical. “I” should be paired with “was” if the statement talks about a fact.

Comparison Chart

WasWere
Past tense of “is”Past tense of “are”
Used with singular and uncountable nouns or pronounsUsed with plural nouns and pronouns
Follows the pronoun “I” if the statement talks about a factPaired with the pronoun “I” if it is in a subjunctive mood or if the statement expresses something not real or hypothetical