Easily Confused Words: Were vs. We’re

Were and we’re are easily confused words. An apostrophe changes everything.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Were (pronounced “whuh-urr”) is a verb. It’s the past tense of a plural verb are. As such, it’s only appropriate when talking about events of the past, things that have happened, and hypothetical actions.

For example, a famous 1970s film with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford is “The Way We Were,” a film about people meeting in college, that marry years later. They are opposites, so their relationship is difficult.

We’re (pronounced “whuh-eer”) is a contraction of the verb phrase “we are.” We’re is used for present situations, and for things happening in the near future.

If you’re in doubt about were and we’re, insert the full words in their place.

“We’re going to the park later.” becomes “We are going to the park later.” Perfect!

In contrast, “Were going to the park later.” Nope! That doesn’t work at all. It’s a past tense verb being used to describe near future events, events that haven’t happened.

The only way it could work is with some changed wording, like making it a question about potential activities, like, “Were you planning on going to the park later? It’s raining pretty hard. The radar says it’s not going to let up for a few hours.”

The following story uses both words correctly:

Wera started pouting. Her older sister Wendalyn was slipping her purse on her shoulder.

“What’s the matter?” asked Will, their Dad.

“I wanted to do hair, and play princesses, but Wennie’s leaving me by myself,” Wera whimpered.

Wendalyn responded, “We’re going shopping. I can’t watch her, and hang out with my friends, Dad. She’ll wander off.”

“When were you going to tell me you were headed out today?” Will asked. “Jamie is in classes all day. Wera has no one to play with.”

“She’s got you, Dad,” Wendalyn closed the front door and headed out. So an afternoon of pre-season football was postponed. Instead, Will learned all about the princesses of Fairyborough. They briefly played hair salon, but his short hair wasn’t very fun for his stylist. Then they built a birdhouse, and went out for frozen yogurt. He may or may not have had a sparkly plastic barrette on the back of his head when they went for yogurt, but no one said anything.

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