Many people are confused as to when to use the verb was and when to use the verb were. There is sometimes a great debate concerning the use of was vs were, but the rules for using these terms are clear. We will examine how to use was or were, and look at some examples of the use of the words was and were in a sentence or two.
Was and were are past tenses of the verb to be. The verb to be is an irregular verb, which is a verb that does not follow any pattern or rules in its conjugation. The verb to be is probably one of the most commonly used verbs in the English language, but also one of the most confusing. It can be particularly hard to understand whether to use were or was in certain situations.
Was is the first person singular past tense form of the verb to be, and the third person singular past tense form of the verb to be.
I was home last night.
He was in bed at ten o’clock.
She was at the restaurant until eleven.
It was not a late night.
Were is the second person singular and plural past tense form of the verb to be, and the first and third person plural past tense form of the verb to be.
You were home last night.
The boys were in bed by ten o’clock.
They were asleep by eleven.
The use of were vs was can get a little murky in a few situations. The first situation is when using the phrases there were or there was. In order to use these terms correctly, you must identify the subject of the sentence and make sure that the subject and verb are in agreement. Making sure that a subject and verb are in agreement means to make sure that they are either both plural or both singular. A good rule to remember is when a sentence begins with there, the subject is found after the verb. Once the subject has been identified, use was if the subject is singular and were if the subject is plural. Keep this rule in mind when trying to decide whether to use was, were or some other form of the verb to be.
There was a dog in the road. (The subject is dog, a singular noun.)
There were three people trying to lure the dog away from the road. (The subject is people, a plural noun.)
The other grammatical situation which may be confusing when deciding between the words was and were, is the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood expresses a hypothetical situation, one that has not come to pass but might come to pass. It may be conditional or it may simply be imaginary. In any case, it is easy to decide between the phrases I was or I were (I was is the correct form, as I is first person singular), or the phrases you was or you were, (you were is the correct form, as you is second person singular or plural), but deciding between the phrases if I was or if I were can be more confusing. Fortunately, there is one simple rule: the subjunctive mood always uses the past tense verb, were. If you are speaking of a conditional or hypothetical situation, the verb were is the correct choice, regardless of whether the subject is singular or plural. Using the word if is a reliable indicator of using the subjective mood. Now you know that when faced with a choice between the phrases if I were or if I was, the phrase if I were is always correct.