The differences between where and were are the pronunciation, spelling, and meaning. One is always a verb; one is an adverb and part-time subordinating conjunction. They are two different words and have different meanings.
Correct usage of "where" and "were" is a constant battle for native English speakers and ESL students just beginning to learn English grammar. These are two of the most confused words in the English language.
Where can be an adverb or, informally, a subordinating conjunction linking dependent and independent clauses.
As an adverb that usually appears after a place or situation. It means in, at, or to which, as with a sentence like “I lived in New York City, where I worked for several years.”
Here are sentences using the word "where" to show in, at, or to which:
Where can also be used as a subordinating conjunction as with “We performed an experiment where we measured buoyancy.” Here the meaning of where is “in which.”
Where as a conjunction can also mean “in the place that,” or “in situations that,” as with these sentences:
Where is pronounced to rhyme with bear, hair, or there.
Were is a verb form of to be, and it is three different verb forms:
Let's review the word "were" in its three different verb forms and learn how to use "were" in sentence.
The second-person singular past tense refers to using were for the singular second-person pronoun you, or when referring to another person (only one) by name. Here are sample conversation using the past tense of the verb were:
You: “Bettine, were you in the post office yesterday?”
Bettine: “Yes. I was mailing a box of llama chow. Why, were you there too?”
You: “You were in line ahead of me. Were you aware I was there or was I where you could not see me?”
Bettine: “I was not aware. Were you where the line turned around the pillar?”
The plural past tense of to be is were. This plural form is used for all plural noun forms, such as we and they.
You: “Together, we were in the post office an hour.”
Bettine: “My coworkers were wondering where I was.”
You: “The postal workers were sorting and canceling as fast as they could.”
Bettine: “They really were, but I was still late getting back, where my boss was upset.
The past subjunctive tense is reserved for any hypothetical or unreal event in the past, present, or future. If it is unlikely to happen or cannot happen at all, use the past subjunctive tense:
Bettine: “Were I to suddenly sprout wings, I would not be able to get back to the office in time.”
You: “It was as if time were moving backward, standing in that line.”
Bettine: “If I were a less patient person, I would throw a loud tantrum.”
You: “Suppose we were to bring sandwiches and have a picnic in the line next time!”
Bettine: “It would be as if we were completely free for the afternoon.”
Were is pronounced to rhyme with burr and stir.
Now that we see that where is an adverb or sometimes a subordinating conjunction, and were is always a verb, we should have no trouble sorting out when to use which word.
We always use were when we need a verb or a helping verb:
We use where to mean location, as with at, in, or to which:
We also use where as a conjunction:
See how well you can separate where and were by completing these example sentences.
Put where or were in the correct blanks in these sentences:
If we were you, we would try before we looked at the answers.
The word we're is another English word that gets confused with were. It is pronounced the same way and looks like the word were with an apostrophe.
We're is the conjunction of the pronoun we and the plural present tense form of the verb to be, are.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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