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Was vs. Were—How To Use These Words Correctly

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Is it “if I was” or “if I were”? How about “there was” or “there were”? We’ll go over this and more.

When to use was and were
“Was” and “were” are both past tense of the verb “(to) be.”
  • Was and were are the past tense of the verb (to) be.
  • Was is used for first-person singular and third-person singular.
    • I was taking a walk around the neighborhood.
      It was a beautiful day.
  • Were is used for second-person singular and all plural forms:
    • You were late three days in a row.
      We were worried something was wrong.
      They were going to give you a few days off to recover.
  • When writing in the subjunctive mood, use were. Use was if what you’re writing is a statement of fact.
    • Nathaniel acts as if he were a professional athlete.
      I was hitting home runs by the age of five.
  • Use there was if the subject is singular, and there were if the subject is plural.
    • There was one balloon at the party.
      There were hundreds of balloons at the party.

“Was” vs. “Were”

Irregular verbs are verbs that don’t follow the typical conjugation patterns (adding “–d” or “–ed”). One of the most commonly used verbs is irregular—(to) be. The past tense forms of (to) be are was and were. The rules for using was or were are clear-cut, but there are a handful of them to remember. We’ll discuss them below.

were was, difference between was and were
Many English language learners and native speakers use “was” and “were” incorrectly. 

When To Use “Was”

Use was for first-person singular (I) and third-person singular (he, she, it).

I was getting prepared for the presentation.
He was practicing his speech.
She was going to present too, but then she got sick.
It was a well-executed presentation either way.

When To Use “Were”

Use were for second-person (you), first-person plural (we), and third-person plural (they).

You were so funny when you were younger.
We were always laughing when we were around you.
They were sure you would become a comedian when you got older.

As you can see, using was or were depends on the point of view of the speaker. However, there’s a certain case in which were is always used: when you’re writing in the subjunctive mood.

The subjunctive mood is a verb form that’s used in hypothetical or contrary-to-the-fact situations.

I wish I were a kid again.
If it were sunny outside, we’d be able to go to the beach.
When she cooks, she acts as if she were on the Food Network.
He’s extremely frugal. He acts as if he were broke.

So, when it comes to if I was vs. if I were, use were if what you’re writing about is contrary to reality, and was if what you’re writing about is a statement of fact.


“There Were” or “There Was”?

Using there was or there were depends on the subject of the sentence. If the subject is singular, use was. If it’s plural, use were.

There was a pizza party on the last day of school.
There were several games and activities.

Using “Was” or “Were”

Using was and were correctly takes practice. Even native speakers sometimes use them incorrectly (according to standard English). Just try keeping these key points in mind:

  • When writing in the past tense, use I was, she/he was, and it was.
    Use you were, we were, and they were.
  • In the subjunctive mood, always use were.
  • LanguageTool can detect incorrect use of was and were and offers suggestions. This intelligent writing assistant can also correct spelling and grammar mistakes in multiple apps and programs.

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