Was vs. Were

CatNOTE: When all else fails, use a picture of a cat! 😀

Time for a post that’s actually really hard for me to write about! I had a tutor suggest doing was and were, which is something I was subconsciously avoiding because–frankly–I didn’t know how to use them! After some extensive research I’m here to report the difference to you!


Let’s start simply and become increasingly difficult. Were is past tense for plural subjects (like “they”) or the singular second person (“you”). For example “Kelly and Shelly were happy with the result.” Since I use “and,” I’m talking about two people and my subject is plural. Another example: “You were unhappy that day.”

Now let’s look at was and come back to were (seriously, stick with me here folks!).


Was is pretty simple actually. It’s used with singular subjects, such as the first person (“I”) or third person (“S/he”). It’s the simple past tense. For example, “She was upset.” “He was angry.” It’s only used with factual things that have happened.

So we have a basic idea of the simplest forms of was and were. Let’s move on to the more complicated form of were.

Were (revisited)

Here comes the tricky part. Were is always used for hypothetical situations. If there’s a situation that isn’t actually happening, but rather could happen, you’ll use were. For example, “If I were feeling a little better, I’d go with you.” In this situation, the speaker clearly doesn’t feel well. As such, it’s a hypothetical situation. Another example is “If it were sunny outside, I could go tanning.” The implication of this sentence means that it’s currently not sunny outside.

Final thoughts

Was and were can be pretty tricky. Ask yourself if you’re discussing a hypothetical situation or one that has actually taken place. If it’s an actual situation, ask yourself if your subject is first, second, or third person–singular or plural. Good luck!

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.

One Comment

  1. Thank you so much! This was really helpful! So simple an explanation here, I was going around in circles trying to explain the same thing to one of my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English).


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