When to Use Was and Were


You may not think about it, but do you know when to use was and were? Believe it or not, most native English speakers use these intuitively. However, if someone asks us why or when to use them, we stutter and can’t explain it.

Common terms used in this post:

Subject: What is doing the action.

Verb: The action that is performed.

There are only two rules to remember:

1. Subject-verb agreement. If the subject is just one person or thing, use was. If the subject is more than one person or thing, use were.

a. I was going to wash my car, but it rained.

b. The dog was barking, so I couldn’t sleep.

c. He was my favorite speaker.

a. We were going to the zoo, but our car broke down.

b. The kittens were playing all day.

c. James and I were going to play Smallworld, but we played Zombiecide instead.

2. If I and I wish statements. When you say, “I wish…” or “If I…,” use were.

When talking about someone else, were signifies something that will more than likely not happen, and was suggests it is a possibility.

a. I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener.

b. If I were president, I would increase minimum wage.

c. I wish he was on the football team. (it’s a possibility, so use was).

My personal tricks to remember these rules: one equals was and the Oscar Meyer wiener song. If you have any fun tips about was and were, feel free to share them below!

References: Grammar Girl, grammar video

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