Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Confusing Usage of the Verbs “Was” and “were"

Many words in the English language are misused today; many giving way to the common usage of them. Is this something we should accept or do we defend the original usage of them?

The original usage of many English words is dwindling today, as the English language is being damaged by many factors, such as the gravitation to, or the acceptance of, common usage, which ignores the correct way to use words. The words: there, their and they're, are often pitifully misused. Phrases that include “went,” such as, “He went missing” are very commonly used today. Does that mean he went someplace to be missing? Did he “went” if he was taken? Phrases that start with “like,” such as, “Like, I saw him, today,” crucify the language.

Other words, such as the verbs, “was” and “were” are also, often misused today. For example, the comment, “If I was grading that, I'd give you a good score.” Are we talking about something that has already occurred or something that may (hypothetically) happen? The common usage of the verb “was” nowadays (used in past and future tenses), makes its usage confusing. I would rather use the verb “were” if I am talking about something that I might do, and “was” for something I have already done. For clarification, if I am talking about something I may do in the future, I may rephrase the comment to: “If I were to grade that, I'd give you a good score.” The justifications for the misuse of these verbs today, are they have changed to a common use and usage of them in informal communications.

Those of us who desire to influence, or responsible for teaching the proper usage of English words, should be careful not to give in to the popular, common and misuse of these words. Common usage in time can ruin a language and cause confusion.

To use English as correctly as possible, I use a simple rule of thumb: If I am talking in singular person, past tense, about something that has already occurred, I use the verb, “was.” If I am talking about something that may occur in the future, I use the verb, “were.”

Punctuation is also difficult for some writers. This is a subject that I will write more about in future articles, but for now, I will offer a simple, but useful rule of thumb for the usage of the semi-colon. Besides using it to separate lists where more information is provided about a particular item, it is used to join two connecting sentences. An example of the latter is, “The frightened boy jumped; he saw a snake.” If the related sentences could be joined by the conjunctive “and,” then a semi-colon can be used between the sentences.