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Are vs. Were: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 26, 2023
"Are" is the present tense plural form of the verb "to be," while "were" is the past tense plural form of the same verb.

Key Differences

"Are" and "were" represent different tenses of the verb "to be," which is fundamental in English grammar. "Are" is used in the present tense for plural subjects (like 'they', 'we', or 'you') or singular 'you', indicating a current state of being, as in "They are happy." "Were" is the past tense form used for plural subjects and the singular second person 'you', referring to a state or condition that existed in the past, as in "They were happy."
In terms of usage, "are" is employed to describe a current condition, ongoing action, or general truth in the present, such as "The shops are open." "Were," however, is used to describe situations, conditions, or actions that were true at some point in the past but not necessarily now, like "The shops were open until 9 PM."
"Are" can also be used to form present continuous tense verbs, which indicate ongoing actions happening at the moment of speaking. For example, "We are studying." In contrast, "were" is used in the past continuous tense to describe actions that were ongoing in the past, as in "We were studying when she called."
In conditional sentences, "were" is often used in the subjunctive mood to express unreal or hypothetical situations, regardless of the subject's number, like in "If I were a bird, I would fly." "Are," being in the present tense, is not used in such hypothetical or unreal conditional structures.
The correct usage of "are" and "were" also reflects subject-verb agreement in English. "Are" must be used with plural subjects or singular 'you' in the present tense, whereas "were" is used with both plural subjects and singular 'you' in the past tense, ensuring that the verb agrees with the subject in both number and tense.

Comparison Chart



Subject Agreement

Plural subjects and singular 'you'
Plural subjects and singular 'you'


Describes current conditions or truths
Indicates past states or actions

Continuous Tense

Forms present continuous verbs
Forms past continuous verbs

Conditional Sentences

Not used for hypothetical situations
Used in subjunctive mood for hypotheticals

Are and Were Definitions


Indicates a state of being in the present.
The shops are open today.


Used in conditional sentences for hypotheticals.
If I were a millionaire, I would travel the world.


Expresses a general truth or habitual action.
Cats are independent animals.


Describes past states or conditions.
The doors were locked.


Used with singular 'you' to indicate a current state.
You are the best player on the team.


Past tense of "to be" for plural subjects.
The students were in class yesterday.


Used to form the present continuous tense.
They are playing soccer now.


Indicates a past habitual action.
They were always early to meetings.


Present tense of "to be" for plural subjects.
The children are at school.


Second person singular and plural and first and third person plural past indicative of be.


Second person singular and plural and first and third person plural present indicative of be.


Past subjunctive of be. See Usage Notes at if, wish.


A metric unit of area equal to 100 square meters (119.6 square yards).


Inflection of be
John, you were the only person to see him.


Inflection of be
Mary, where are you going?


Inflection of be
We were about to leave.
Mary and John, you were right.
They were a fine group.
They were to be the best of friends from that day on.


Inflection of be
We are not coming.


Inflection of be
I wish that it were Sunday.
I wish that I were with you.


Inflection of be
Mary and John, are you listening?


(Northern England) be.


Inflection of be
They are here somewhere.


(fandom) The collective name for any kind of person that changes into another form under certain conditions, including the werewolf.


Inflection of be


To wear. See 3d Wear.


(rare) An accepted (but deprecated and rarely used) metric unit of area equal to 100 square metres, or a former unit of approximately the same extent. Symbol: a.


To guard; to protect.


Misspelling of our


A weir. See Weir.


The present indicative plural of the substantive verb to be; but etymologically a different word from be, or was. Am, art, are, and is, all come from the root as.


A man.


The unit of superficial measure, being a square of which each side is ten meters in length; 100 square meters, or about 119.6 square yards.


A fine for slaying a man; the money value set upon a man's life; weregild.
Every man was valued at a certain sum, which was called his were.


A unit of surface area equal to 100 square meters


The imperfect indicative plural, and imperfect subjunctive singular and plural, of the verb be. See Be.


Used in the past continuous tense.
We were watching a movie last night.


What is the verb tense of "are"?

"Are" is in the present tense.

Can "are" express habitual actions?

Yes, "are" can express general truths or habitual actions.

Can "are" be used with singular subjects?

"Are" is used with plural subjects and singular 'you'.

Is "are" used in describing current actions?

Yes, "are" describes current states or ongoing actions.

Can "were" be used for singular subjects?

"Were" is used with plural subjects and singular 'you'.

Can "were" describe past habits?

Yes, "were" can indicate past habitual actions.

Is "are" used in forming questions?

Yes, "are" is used in forming present tense questions.

What is the verb tense of "were"?

"Were" is in the past tense.

Do "are" and "were" follow subject-verb agreement?

Yes, both follow subject-verb agreement rules.

Can "were" be used in subjunctive mood?

Yes, "were" is commonly used in the subjunctive mood.

Is "were" used in hypothetical statements?

Yes, "were" is used in the subjunctive mood for hypotheticals.

Does "were" imply a completed action?

Yes, "were" often implies actions completed in the past.

Is "are" used for future tense?

No, "are" is not typically used for future tense.

Is "were" used in past continuous tense?

Yes, "were" is used to form the past continuous tense.

Can "were" be used in conditional sentences?

Yes, especially in unreal or hypothetical conditions.

Are "are" and "were" part of the verb "to be"?

Yes, they are forms of the verb "to be."

Is "are" appropriate for formal writing?

Yes, "are" is appropriate in both formal and informal contexts.

Can "are" and "were" be interchanged?

No, they are used in different tenses and contexts.

Is "are" used in present continuous verbs?

Yes, "are" forms present continuous verbs.

Can "were" indicate past continuous actions?

Yes, "were" is used in past continuous tense constructions.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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