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Grammar patterns of 'was' and 'were'

'Was' is the singular past tense of the irregular verb 'be.' 'Were' is the plural past tense of the irregular verb 'be'. 'Was' and 'were' are also auxiliary or helping verbs.


We were waiting for the bus.

1. 'Was' and 'were' are used to give more information about the subject.

The teacher who sits next to you was my next-door neighbour.
A: What was the animal like?
B: It was like a big cat.
A: Why were they absent yesterday?
B: They went to the International Book Exhibition at the BMICH.

2. 'Was' and 'were' are used to say that something was in progress at some time in the past.

It was raining cats and dogs and we could not attend school.
A: What was she doing?
B: She was sewing.
A: How did you break your leg?
B: I was riding a motorcycle.
A: Were they laughing at the speaker?
B: No, they were applauding him!

3. 'Was' and 'were' are used to talk about things that happened without the need to say who or what caused them.
Paper was first used in China.
We were given instructions before the demonstration.
My purse was stolen yesterday.

4. 'Was' and 'were' are used to talk about hypothetical present states.
If I was hungry, I would eat something.
If you were a king, what would you do?
(In grammar this is called the second conditional)

5. Collocations
'Was' and 'were' are auxiliary or helping verbs which help you to form the past continuous tenses.
Sam was driving too fast and the car met with an accident.
Everybody was looking at the Beauty queen.
I was thinking, maybe I should find a job.
What were you doing before coming here?
(This is a more polite form than "What did you do before coming here?")
I thought I was getting somewhere.
We were dancing when somebody shouted at us.
He was trying to find out his telephone number.
He was making some progress in his job.
When I met Charles he was talking to a foreigner.
We were waiting for the bus.
Certain adverbs are frequently used with 'was' and 'were.'
It was still raining when we woke up the following morning.


We were dancing when somebody shouted at us.


Schoolgirls were already queuing up to buy tickets.


We were just talking about Socrates.
I was only joking.
He was really amazing!
The minister was constantly travelling abroad.

6. Set phrases
A: Where were you born?
B: I was born in Myanmar. (birthplace)

If I were you, I would not punish him. (for giving advice)

We are having a nice time in the hill country.Wish you were here. (a common expression)

He was telling me that all the arrangements had been made.

(An informal way of reporting)

Activity

Choose the correct verb form in the following sentences. Check your answers with the key.
1. We played / were playing cricket when it started to rain.
2. The bell rang / was ringing when I entered the classroom.
3. We reached / were reaching the station when the train was leaving.
4. I worked / was working on my thesis when my computer broke down.
5. They met / were meeting regularly as both of them worked at the same college.


Current English usage

As a living language the usage of English is subject to change. What you learn today may be outdated after ten or twenty years. Therefore, make it a point to follow the current English usage.

1. Client and Customer

These are closely related words but they are not interchangeable. Client is a person who pays for the advice or services of a professional such as a lawyer or tax consultant. Customer is a person who buys goods from a shop.
The supermarket is full of customers today.
Many clients are waiting to meet the President's Counsel (a senior and eminent lawyer.)

2. Coloration
Unlike colour, coloration has no 'u' before the 'r'.
I saw a bird of unusual coloration.

3. Commence and Begin
Commence is more formal than begin.
The legal proceedings, against him will commence next week.
The cricket match will begin at 9 a.m. Committee
Note the double 'm', double 't', and double 'e'. It may take either a singular or plural verb.
The committee meets tomorrow.
The committee have reached a unanimous decision.

5.Complement and Compliment
Although these two words sound alike, they have totally different meanings.
Complement refers to something that makes something complete.
Today we have our full complement of staff.
Compliment is and expression of praise.
The student received compliments on his work.

6. Compose, Comprise and Constitute
Compose means to come together to make a whole. It is usually found in the passive voice.
The team was composed of young lawyers.
Comprise means to consist of.
The team comprises eleven players.
Note: Comprises is not followed by the preposition 'of'
Constitute means the same as compose but it is usually used in the active voice.
These are the factors that constitute a healthy environment

7. Compulsory and Compulsive
Compulsory means obligatory.
French is not a compulsory subject in most of our schools.
Compulsive means caused by an obsession.
Mr. X is a compulsive gambler.
It is also used to mean 'fascinating'
Anna Karenina is a compulsive novel.


Past continuous tense

Starters

The past continuous tense is formed in the following way.

1. For singular nouns and pronouns (I, he, she, it) was + base form of verb + ‘ing”

Jackson was acting in the film.


They were running away from the elephant.

I was reading the Sunday Observer when the postman rang the bell.

He was driving while she was reading in the back seat of the car:

The cat was cleaning its body when the kittens ran away.

2. For plural nouns and the pronouns (you, we, they) were + base form of verb + ‘ing’

The children were playing in the room.

You were reading an interesting novel.

They were running away from the elephant.

3. Past continuous tense is used to show that two actions were going on at the same time in the past.

While I was riding the bicycle, my sister was ironing her clothes.

While mother was cooking, father was watching television.

4. Past continuous tense is used to show that something happened while a longer action was going on.

I was watching TV last night when Sara phoned me.

She was waiting in a queue when her mobile phone rang.

5. Certain verbs do not usually take the past continuous tense:
He appears whenever you need him.
Sometimes he forgets his own name!
I want to buy a lot of books.
This shirt does not fit him.
She owns this house.
I wish you good luck.
Activity

Fill in the blanks with the simple past tense or past continuous tense form of the verbs in the brackets. Check your answers with the key.
1. At 10 last night, Shalini————(work) on her computer.
2. From 8. a.m. to 10 a.m. mother————(sew) shirts.
3. Mala————-(forget) to lock the safe last night.
4. She————(sleep) when the police arrived.
5. While she————(bake) a cake, I was watching TV
6. Ram————(paint) the building all day yesterday.
7. When I————(leave) the bank somebody called me.
8. While she———-(prepare) lunch, her son———-(read) a book.
9. While Sam———-(chat) on the phone somebody knocked on the door.
10. I ————(shop) in Dubai when I met sita.


Key
1. was working
2. was sewing
3. forgot
4. was sleeping
5. was baking
6. was painting
7. was leaving
8. was preparing/was reading
9. was chatting
10. was shopping

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