“Was” or “Were”? Rules and Examples

"Was" vs. "Were": Use Cases And Examples. Was/were – past simple of 'be'

The Difference Between “Was” and “Were”: Past Tense Forms of “To Be”

Properly using “was” and “were” in English grammar is important for both speaking and writing. Both “was” and “were” are past tense forms of the verb “to be” (“to be” is an irregular verb, irregular verbs are verbs that do not add “-ed” in the past tense, they have a special table of irregular verbs). However, mistakes are often made when using them in English. In this article, we will look at the difference between “was” and “were,” review the main rules for using them correctly.

Main Rules for “Was” and “Were”

Was” and “were” are past tense forms of the verb “to be.” They are used differently depending on the person, number (singular or plural).

“Was” is used for the first person singular (I) and third person singular (he, she, it) subjects, as well as with singular nouns. For example:

  • I was walking to the grocery store.
  • She was not friendly when introduced to my sister.
  • I was at the library yesterday.
  • He was happy about the test results.
  • The cat was asleep on the couch.

Were” is used for second person singular and plural (you, your, yours) and first and third person plural (we, they) subjects. For example:

  • You were drinking some water.
  • We were in the right spot.
  • They were nowhere to be seen.
  • You were the only person at the party.
  • We were planning to go on a trip.
  • They were excited to see the new movie.

“Was” and “were” are used to indicate past tense, but they have different conjugations depending on the person and number. Here is a table showing how the verb “to be” is conjugated in the past tense, which should help remember when and what to use:

ISingularWasI was at home.
YouSingularWereYou were happy.
HeSingularWasHe was late.
SheSingularWasShe was tired.
ItSingularWasIt was raining.
WePluralWereWe were at the party.
YouPluralWereYou were studying.
TheyPluralWereThey were friends.

That is, “was” is used in most cases when we are talking about ourselves or one person or thing, and “were” is used when we are talking about someone or something in the plural. Example:

  • I was happy yesterday
  • You were late for the meeting
  • He was the best student in the class
  • We were at the park this morning
  • You were very helpful
  • They were playing soccer

Exception When Using the Subjunctive Mood

There is an exception where “were” is used for all persons and numbers, even when singular. This is when you are using the subjunctive mood (a verb form that expresses an action or state that is not real). The subjunctive mood is a way of expressing an action or state that is not real but only imagined, desired, or hypothetical. In such cases, you should use “were” for all persons and numbers. For example:

  • If I were rich, I would travel the world.
  • She wishes she were taller.
  • He would be happier if he were married.
  • If I were you, I would clean the counters before the floors.
  • I wish it were warmer outside.
  • He acts as if he were the one in charge.

In these sentences we use “were” because we are talking about situations that don’t exist in reality, only in our imagination.

The Constructions “There Was” and “There Were”

The constructions “there was” and “there were” are used to indicate the presence or absence of something in the past tense. They are similar to the constructions “there is” and “there are” in the present tense, but have different forms of the verb to be.

“There was” is used for singular nouns, and “there were” is used for plural nouns. For example:

  • There was a book on the table.
  • There were two books on the table.

You can use “there was” and “there were” for positive, negative, and question sentences. Here is how you can do it:

  • Positive sentences: There + was/were + subject. For example:

    • There was a cat in the garden.
    • There were some flowers in the vase.
  • Negative sentences: There + was/were + not + subject. For example:

    • There was not a cat in the garden.
    • There were not any flowers in the vase.
  • Question sentences: Was/Were + there + subject? For example:

    • Was there a cat in the garden?
    • Were there any flowers in the vase?

Which Verb Tenses in English Use “Was” and “Were”?

There are many verb tenses in English, but “was” and “were” are only used in some of them. Let’s look at which tenses use “was” and “were” in English. Mainly, they are used in the Past Simple and sometimes in the Past Continuous:

  • Past Simple – This tense describes an action or state that happened and was completed in the past. For example:

    • I was happy yesterday.
    • You were late for the meeting.
    • He was the best student in the class.
  • Past Continuous – This tense describes an action or state that was in progress at a specific moment in the past. For example:

    • I was reading a book when you called me.
    • You were sleeping when I came home.

We also offer a table for better understanding.

TenseExample with “was”Example with “were”
Past SimpleI was happy.We were happy.
She was at school.You were at school.
It was raining.They were late.
Past ContinuousI was reading a book.We were reading books.
He was playing football.You were playing football.
She was working late.They were working late.
Past Perfect (Don’t use “was/were”, but “had”)I had been to Paris.We had been friends.

Frequently asked questions about using “Was” and “Were”

  1. When is “was” used and when is “were” used?

    • “Was” is used with singular subjects (“I,” “he,” “she,” “it”), and “were” is used with plural subjects and second person singular (“we,” “you,” “they”).
  2. How do you make negatives with “was” and “were”?

    • “Was not” can be shortened to “wasn’t,” and “were not” can be shortened to “weren’t.”
  3. Can “was” or “were” be used for the future tense?

    • No, “was” and “were” are mainly used for the past tense and passive voice, not the future.
  4. How do you make the passive voice with “was” and “were”?

    • You use the construction “be + past participle.” For example, “The book was read.”
  5. Can “was” and “were” be used together in the same sentence?

    • No, “was” and “were” are not used together in the same sentence. Their use depends on the person and number of the subject.
  6. Can “was” and “were” be used to make question sentences?

    • Yes, “was” or “were” can be moved to the beginning of a sentence to make a question. For example, “Was she at home?” “Were they happy?”

Practice understanding “Was” and “Were”

To reinforce your knowledge, test yourself by filling in the blanks with either “was” or “were” in these sentences:

  • If she ___ a bird, she would fly away.
  • He ___ not feeling well yesterday.
  • They ___ very excited to see the movie.
  • I wish I ___ there with you.
  • You ___ the first person to arrive.
  • We ___ not allowed to enter the museum.


  • If she were a bird, she would fly away.
  • He was not feeling well yesterday.
  • They were very excited to see the movie.
  • I wish I were there with you.
  • You were the first person to arrive.
  • We were not allowed to enter the museum.

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