Monday, April 23, 2012

Was vs. Were


I used to post these writing tips on a regular basis, and I want to get back to it, so here goes: My renewed endeavor to get back on track. J

I have recently identified that was vs. were is one of my personal writing challenges. Until just a few minutes ago, I wasn't (or weren't) really sure which version of the verb "be" to use and when. Is it I was or I were? Hmm.

As with everything else I'm unsure of in my life, I decided to do some research. For this, I went to the Grammar Girl. I've used her a lot and she didn't fail me here, either.

It seems that when the thought or idea being written about is wishful, likely to be false, or is otherwise reminiscing in nature, you use "I were." If the thought or idea is true or based on fact or supposition that it is true, you use "I was."

1. If I were a man, I would never hit a woman. (I am a woman. This would be "wishful thinking" so we use "I were.")
2. If Sara was to order a pizza, we could stay in for lunch. (Because Sara mentioned she would be ordering a pizza, this is likely to happen, so "was" is used)

Same sentence, written two ways:

If John was to come home early, we could go to a movie. (Because it's a holiday and John's boss hinted that the office was going to close early, this is likely to happen. Hence: "was")

If John were to come home early, we could go to a movie. (Because it's a week day and not a holiday and John NEVER comes home early, this is wishful thinking. Hence: "were")

To summarize:
Wishful thinking or false: "I were."
Likely to happen or based on fact: "I was."

I've attached Grammar Girl's link if you want to read more in-depth about this topic.

Happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. And if you still struggle to remember which word to use, think: "I wish I WERE an Oscar Meyer weiner." That jingle says it all right there. You're wishing, so it's not true, and you're using the word, "WERE." Happy writing!