Difference Between Are and Were

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 14, 2023

       

Difference Between Are and Were

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Introduction

Are and Were are verbs used in various tenses. More precisely, they both are Auxiliaries or Helping verbs. But, the major difference between them is that they both belong to different tenses. ‘Are’ is used in the Present Continuous Tense and ‘Were’ is used in the past Continuous Tense.

The Present Continuous tells about an action that is currently occurring. For example- Adam is studying in the conference room. In this sentence, the bold words indicate the tense. ‘is studying’ means that Adam is in the process of studying right now. It is an ongoing process. This tense is formed by using the present tense of ‘to be’ - is, am and are; with a present participle verb(-ing). Let’s take a look at some examples-

I am baking a cake.

She is singing a song for the guests.

They are going to play.

The past continuous is used to describe a time in the past when action was occurring at that time. In short, it is an on-going action in the past. For example- William was playing yesterday. Here, the bold words indicate that the action of ‘playing’ was ongoing at some point in the past by William. Past Continuous tense is formed by using the past tense of “to be” - was and were; along with the present participle form of verb. Examples are given below-

While I was living in London, I worked as a dentist.

When they were caring for my children, I studied at night.

The children were studying the previous night.

Now that you have understood the tenses in which ‘Are’ and ‘Were’ are applied, let’s have a detailed look at their differences, their definitions, uses and examples.

Are vs. Were

Are and Were belong to different tenses altogether. Where one is used in the Present tense, the other is for the past tense. 'Are' denotes the Present Continuous Tense whereas, 'Were' is a mark of the Past Continuous Tense.

'Are' acts as a Present tense Auxiliary verb for the Plural subject, indicating ongoing actions or conditions. For example- We are playing cricket. In this sentence, the subject is Plural, are playing denotes Present Tense and ‘are’ is the Auxiliary verb assisting the main verb ‘playing’.

'Were' is the Past tense, the plural form of 'to be', used for activities or conditions that occurred in the past. Example- They were playing hockey. Here, the subject ‘they’ is plural, ‘were playing’ means Past tense and ‘were’ is the auxiliary that is supporting the main verb ‘playing’.

Difference Between Are and Were in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonAreWere
Definition‘Are’ is used to indicate an action that is still happening now.‘Were’ is used to indicate an action that was once happening or is just finished.
Time‘Are’ indicates something happening in the present time.‘Were’ indicates an action of the past.
Type of TenseIt is used in the Present Continuous Tense.It is used in the Past Continuous Tense.
Singular formThe singular form of ‘are’ – ‘is’.The singular form of ‘were’ is ‘was’.
StructureSubject + are + (base+ ing).Children are studying.Subject + were + (base+ ing)Children were studying.
Assertive ExamplesThey are singing a song.The parents are waiting for their children.We were praying for their success.The cats were drinking the milk yesterday.
Interrogative ExamplesAre you going to visit her?Are they playing in the garden?Were they blaming her?Were the parents complaining?

What is "Are"?

'Are', as you may already know, is a verb used for plural nouns. Another important thing is that 'are' is an auxiliary verb used in the Present Continuous Tense. Present Continuous Tense expresses the actions that are happening at the time of speaking. This tense is formed using two words as verbs. The helping verbs of the present 'is, am, and are' are used in front of the -ing form of the main verbs in the sentence to form the present continuous tense.

For example-The people are marching to the ground.

You are making me angry.

Now, look at these sentences-

Are you looking for something? 

Are you waiting for someone?

These are interrogative sentences. In questions, the subject will get placed between the helping verb and the -ing form of the main verb. 

Use of Are

'Are' is used -

  • For an action that is going on at the moment of speaking.

Examples- The players are running.

The chefs are cooking.

  • For an action which is currently taking place but not necessarily at the exact time of speaking.

Examples- Sandy's friends are taking French lessons as they plan to go to Paris.

My cousins are studying for their board exams.

  • To describe a habit, often used with adverbs of frequency.

Examples- They are always getting into arguments.

Ray's siblings are constantly playing games on their phones.

  • For an action happening around which is temporary.

Examples- They are living in my house until they find a new place.

 Tom's friends are taking care of the dog till he returns. 

  • To describe an event that is planned for the future and is used with the adverbs of time.

Example- They are holding a party on Saturday.

Amy's parents are celebrating their anniversary tomorrow evening. 

Structure of the sentence with 'Are'

The structure of a sentence when using ‘Were’:

Subject + are + main verb (base+ ing)

Example – They are resting.

              Subject       Main verb

  • For Positive sentences –

Subject + are + base verb + ing

Example: They are playingwith her puppy.

  • For Negative sentences –

Subject + aren’t + base verb + ing

Example: They aren’t playing with her puppy.

  • For Interrogative sentences –

Are + Subject + base verb + ing +?

Example: Are they playing with her puppy?

  • For Interrogative Negative sentences –

Are not + Subject + base verb + ing +?

Example: Aren’t they playing with the puppy?

What is "Were"?

You may know 'Were' as the plural form for 'Was'. But, other than that, there are other definitions of 'Were' and its uses in different places and intents. The verb ‘Were’ tells us about an action that was happening in the past. 

‘Were’ is a Helping or Auxiliary verb of the past tense. It originates from the ‘To Be’ group of Helping Verbs. Helping verbs of the past tense show an action or a state of being in the past tense. For example:

  • The children were playing cricket on the field.
  • The students were singing very sweetly.

Some other helping verbs of the past are- was, did, and had. 

Now, look at these sentences:

  • The students were studying for an hour.
  • Harry's parents were sitting at home when the phone rang.
  • The teachers were talking to my mother while she was cooking.

The words italicized tell us that the actions were happening at some time before the time of speaking or they were interjected. This use of verbs in the above sentences tells us that the verbs are in the Past continuous tense. The Past Continuous Tense refers to actions or events in a time in the past which began in the past and were continuing till another event occurred. The Past Continuous tense can be structured by placing the helping verb ‘were’ prior to the -ing form of the main verb in the sentence.

For example – 

  • The family members were watching a movie the previous evening.
  • George's friends were walking to the store yesterday.

Use of ‘Were’ –

‘Were’ is used to indicate:

  • Two progressive actions happening at the same time with the time expression while.

Examples: The children were studying while the mothers were preparing snacks for him.

The car exploded while they were walking past. 

  • While adding a description to a narrative.

Example: They were returning home, the flowers were blooming, and the singers were singing on the street.

  • a longer action that was interrupted by a shorter action – in such situations, the time expression when is used.

Examples: The girls were playing outside when it began to rain.

 The students were reading their books when the doorbell rang.

  • to express a change of mind/opinion.

Example: They were going to read the letter, but they decided to complete their work.

  • for making a courteous request at times.

Example: They were wondering if I could lend them my dress.

  • to refer to something in the future when the statement was said.

Example: My friends promised they were going to call me to finalize the deal. 

  • for describing a background or producing the setting for a narrative.

Example: The dancers were dancing in the background when the hero entered.

Structure for the use of ‘Were’ –

The structure of a sentence when using ‘Were’:

Subject + were + main verb (base+ ing)

Example – They were resting.

              Subject       Main verb

  • For Positive sentences –

Subject + were + base verb + ing

Example: They were playingwith her dog.

  • For Negative sentences –

Subject + weren’t + base verb + ing

Example: They weren’t playing with her dog.

  • For Interrogative sentences –

Were + Subject + base verb + ing +?

Example: Were they playing with her dog?

  • For Interrogative Negative sentences –

Were not + Subject + base verb + ing +?

Example: Weren’t they playing with the dog?

Main Differences Between Are and Were (In Points)

  • ‘Were’ is used to denote an action that was once happening or is just finished. Example- They were dancing. This shows that they were once dancing in the past, not in the present. ‘Are’ is used to indicate an action that is still happening now. Example- They are dancing. This sentence implies that they are presently dancing.
  • 'Were' is used in Past Continuous Tense whereas, 'Are' is used in the Present Continuous Tense. They both are essential for denoting the tense in the given sentence. 
  • The singular form of 'are' which is applied in the present tense is - 'is'. The singular form used for 'were' is 'was'; they are used in the past tense.
  • 'Were' is used to refer to something in the future when the statement was said. Example- My relatives said that they were going to invite me to a wedding.

'Are' is used in future references but in a different way. It is used to describe an event that is planned for the future and is supported by the adverbs of time. For instance- They are celebrating her birthday this Sunday.

  • 'Are' can be used for an action happening around which is temporary. Example- They are playing there till the landlady comes.

On the other hand, 'Were' can express a change of mind/opinion. For example- They were going to help me, but someone stopped them.

Conclusion

People easily get confused between verbs and tenses and it is normal. Are and Were both represent Plural subjects so, the tricky part in understanding them is because they are in different tenses, and not only in different tenses but also the different types under the different tenses.

Keeping it simple, 'Are' is used in the Present Tense and specifically, in the Present Continuous Tense. 'Were' is used in the Past Tense and precisely in the Past Continuous Tense category of the Past. The Present Continuous and Past Continuous Tenses denote ongoing actions in the Present and the Past, respectively. 

For example- We are celebrating her birthday. This sentence means that her birthday is getting celebrated at that present time. 

We were celebrating her birthday. This statement denotes that her birthday was getting celebrated sometime in the Past. It was going on in the Past. 

Now, you must have understood the difference. Many more differences are described in the above article. 'Are and Were' have different uses and using them appropriately is the most important thing for improving your Grammar. The structure of their sentences is also given to make you understand better in every way. The English language can create a hassle, but once you crack it, it will be a cakewalk for you.

References

  • https://www.englishwithashish.com/use-of-is-am-are/

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