Were vs. Was – Grammar Blog


While some of our articles focus on minor grammar points or innocent, common mistakes, here we want to tackle a bigger issue. Many people may struggle with the difference between were and was. Because these are both frequent words that might be used throughout the day, understanding how and when to apply each one can greatly improve your communication skills in American English.

Were and Was: Similarities and Differences

Both of these words come from the verb “to be.” Obviously, being is a big part of life, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that different forms of the verb are so often used (e.g., am, is, are).

In this case, both was and were are in the past tense. The difference is that one (was) is singular, and the other (were) is plural.

If was is past-tense singular, then it refers to one person or object being in a previous moment or time.

Examples
Karen was tired so she took a nap. (She felt tired at a time before the present.)
I looked for my cat all day, but when I finally found her, she was asleep under a blanket. (She fell asleep at a time before the present.)
That sandwich was the best I ever had. (The sandwich had been eaten at a former time.)

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

Were is past tense as well, but it works with plural subjects.

Examples
I looked all over, but my papers were nowhere to be found.
All the kids at the park were on their phones even though we rented a bouncing castle.
The suitcases were three days late in arriving at our vacation hotel.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the right verb for each sentence.

  1. I heard there [was / were] several hundred runners at the race.
  2. The barista [was / were] very helpful in making me a new latte after I dropped my first one.
  3. That old car [was / were] rusty, but I loved the way the engine sounded.
  4. It turned out those coins I found on the beach [was / were] worth a fortune.
  5. My left shoe [was / were] ruined during my dog’s temper tantrum.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

  1. I heard there were several hundred runners at the race.
  2. The barista was very helpful in making me a new latte after I dropped my first one.
  3. That old car was rusty, but I loved the way the engine sounded.
  4. It turned out those coins I found on the beach were worth a fortune.
  5. My left shoe was ruined during my dog’s temper tantrum.

 

Watch for More Grammar Tips

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