Ask Difference

Was vs. Were — What's the Difference?

By Fiza Rafique — Updated on September 21, 2023
Was and Were are both past tense forms of the verb "to be." "Was" is used with singular subjects and "Were" is used with plural subjects and in the subjunctive mood.
Was vs. Were — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Was and Were


Key Differences

Was is a simple past tense form of the verb "to be," commonly used with singular subjects, such as "I," "he," "she," or "it." It denotes that a person or thing was in a certain state or condition at some point in the past.
Were is also a past tense form of "to be," but it is usually used with plural subjects, like "you," "we," and "they." It also applies when talking about multiple entities like "dogs" or "buildings," indicating that they were in a certain state or condition in the past.
In English grammar, Was is more straightforward in its application, usually teaming up with singular subjects in indicative sentences. "Were," however, has a dual role as it is also used in the subjunctive mood to describe hypothetical or non-real situations.
Was is generally not used in conditional sentences that discuss hypothetical or unreal scenarios. "Were," on the other hand, is used in these types of sentences, such as "If I were rich, I would travel the world."
Though both Was and Were come from the same verb "to be," they have distinct rules and contexts that dictate their usage. They should be used correctly to ensure that the subject-verb agreement is maintained and that sentences convey the intended meaning.

Comparison Chart

Subject Agreement

Singular subjects
Plural subjects


Indicative mood only
Indicative and subjunctive

Conditional Sentences

Not generally used
Often used


I was, He was
You were, They were


Standard, but subjunctive can be more formal

Compare with Definitions


Past tense of "to be" for singular subjects.
He was late.


Used in subjunctive mood for hypothetical scenarios.
If I were you, I would apologize.


To form past continuous tense.
He was running.


Used to make past tense questions.
Were you there?


Used to indicate a state or condition.
The door was open.


Used to indicate a state or condition in the past.
The windows were open.


Used to make past tense questions.
Was she there?


To form past continuous tense.
They were running.


To form passive voice sentences.
The cake was eaten.


Were and wer are archaic terms for adult male humans and were often used for alliteration with wife as "were and wife" in Germanic-speaking cultures (Old English: wer, Old Dutch: wer, Gothic: waír, Old Frisian: wer, Old Saxon: wer, Old High German: wer, Old Norse: verr).


First and third person singular past indicative of be. See Note at you-uns.


Second person singular and plural and first and third person plural past indicative of be.


Inflection of be.
I was castigated and scorned.


Past subjunctive of be. See Usage Notes at if, wish.


Inflection of be.
It was a really humongous slice of cake.


Inflection of be
John, you were the only person to see him.


Used in phrases with existential there when the semantic subject is (usually third-person) plural.
There was three of them there.


Inflection of be
We were about to leave.
Mary and John, you were right.
They were a fine group.
They were to be the best of friends from that day on.


Inflection of be.


Inflection of be
I wish that it were Sunday.
I wish that I were with you.


Inflection of be


(Northern England) be.


Inflection of be


(fandom) The collective name for any kind of person that changes into another form under certain conditions, including the werewolf.


The first and third persons singular of the verb be, in the indicative mood, preterit (imperfect) tense; as, I was; he was.


To wear. See 3d Wear.


To guard; to protect.


A weir. See Weir.


A man.


A fine for slaying a man; the money value set upon a man's life; weregild.
Every man was valued at a certain sum, which was called his were.


The imperfect indicative plural, and imperfect subjunctive singular and plural, of the verb be. See Be.


Past tense of "to be" for plural subjects.
They were late.

Common Curiosities

Can I use Was and Were interchangeably?

No, they are subject to subject-verb agreement and mood rules.

What does Was mean?

"Was" is the past tense of "to be" used with singular subjects.

Is Was used in the subjunctive mood?

No, "were" is generally used for the subjunctive.

What does Were mean?

"Were" is the past tense of "to be" used with plural subjects and in subjunctive moods.

What's the negative form of Were?


How do I form questions with Was?

Subject-auxiliary inversion, e.g., "Was he there?"

How do I form questions with Were?

Subject-auxiliary inversion, e.g., "Were they there?"

Can Was be used in conditional sentences?

Typically no, "were" is usually used for hypothetical conditions.

Are Was and Were contractions?

No, they are forms of the verb "to be."

Can Were be used for singular subjects?

Only in the subjunctive mood, e.g., "If I were you."

Is Was only used for singular subjects?

Generally, yes, except for "you" which can be singular but still takes "were."

What's the negative form of Was?


What is the subjunctive mood?

It's used to discuss hypothetical or non-real situations.

Is Were formal language?

It's standard, but its subjunctive use can sound formal.

What are the plural subjects that go with Were?

You, we, they, and any plural nouns.

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Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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