Basic English Grammar: How to Use WAS and WERE

Do you make mistakes with “was” and “were”? Learn how and when to use the past tense of the verb “to be” with this simple, clear lesson. Practice using “was” and “were” in sentences and questions. An important and useful lesson for beginners and anyone who wants to review the important verb “to be” in English.

Next, watch my video on the difference between Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect, and Present Perfect:

After the lesson, take the quiz to test yourself:


Hi. I’m Rebecca from engVid. In this lesson you’ll learn how to use the past tense of the verb “to be”. Now, as you know, the verb “to be” is a really important verb, so in this lesson you’ll learn how to use the words “was” and “were” correctly in English. Now, this is a beginner’s lesson, but even if you are at any level and you just want to review the basics, this lesson will help you. So, let’s get started.

So, the verb “to be”, of course, can be used in the present, in the past, and also in the future. But in this lesson we are focusing on how to use it in the past. I’m going to just review very quickly how to use it in the present, but I think you already know that. Right? Okay. So, when we say: “The present”, what do we mean by that? It could mean right now, it could mean this year, it could mean today. Right? So, for example: “I am at work right now. Yesterday I was at home.” So when I say “was”, that’s the past. The past can be yesterday, last night, last week, five years ago; any time before now is the past. Okay. So, let’s take another example. “He is a manager this year. Last year he was a worker”. “He is” becomes “He was”. Next: “She is in London today. Yesterday she was in Paris.” Again, “is” became “was”. Another example: “It is cold today. Yesterday it was hot.” So, once again, “is” became “was”. So what’s the pattern here? What do you see? I know you see the pattern, so the pattern is that all of these became “was”. So: “I am”, “I was”; “He is”, “He was”; “She is”, “She was”; “It is”, “It was”, right? So all of these: “am” and “is” become “was” in the past. All right? Let’s go to some other pronouns.

“We are studying right now. Yesterday we were working”. “We were”, make sure you pronounce that properly. A lot of people make a mistake when they say “were”. It’s not the word “where”, like the question. It’s “were”. Okay? Say it with me: “We were studying.” Good. Or, sorry: “We were working.” All right. Another example: “You are married today. Yesterday you were single.” Okay? Somebody just got married. All right. “They are here right now, but a few hours ago they were over there.” Okay? All right. So, what do you see here? Another pattern. Whatever is “are” in the present tense becomes “were” in the past tense, that’s all. So there’s only two possibilities in the past tense: “was” or “were”. Okay?

So, here’s a little review: “am” and “is” become “was”; and “are” becomes “were”. Now, one last little point: “was” and “were” can be used by themselves. Okay? So this can be a verb used by itself. For example: “It was hot.” This is just the verb “to be” by itself, or “was” and “were” can be used as helping verbs. For example: “We were working.” Okay? So that’s just a little something to keep in mind. Now, next, you’ll learn how to use “was” and “were” in English.

Now let’s look at how to use “was” and “were” in positive sentences, negative sentences, and also in questions. Okay? So, as you’ve already learned: “I”, “He”, “She”, and “It” all use “was”. Right? “I was at home”, “He was at home”, “She was at home”, “It was at home”. “It” can be for a thing, for example, a cellphone. All right? If you want to make that sentence negative, then basically in English what we have to add is the word “not”: “I was not”, but when we’re speaking we don’t usually say: “I was not at home.” We just say something a little shorter, we say: “I wasn’t at home.” Do you want to repeat that after me so you can learn how to pronounce it really well? “I wasn’t at home.” Now, when you’re writing it, just remember that the apostrophe goes where we take out the “o”. So: “was” and “not”, take out the “o” and add the apostrophe, and then you’ll not only say it perfectly, you’ll also spell it perfectly. Good. So: “I was”, “I wasn’t”. And then to make a question, we just change the order. Same word, right? “Was I at home? I don’t remember.”, “Was he at school?”, “Was she at work?”, “Was it on the shelf?” Okay? So you’re just changing the order when you make a question, so that’s pretty straightforward.

Now let’s look at what happens with: “We”, “You”, and “They”. For that we have to use “were”. “We were”, “You were”, “They were”. And how do we make it negative? Again, you only add the word “not”. […]


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