English Teacher Article Was & Were in English dialects


Many newspapers have been carrying transcripts from a trial here in the UK recently and there are a number of examples of a dialectal usage of the verb 'be' quoted that would be marked wrong if a student used them in an exam, yet they are common enough in many areas of England, particularly in the Midlands and the North, as well as among Cockneys.

It would seem that something that conjugates quite simply on paper does not conform so simply in practice.

Here are a few:

Was used with a plural:

There was two
There was two girls
There was a few weeks

This usage is also found with the present simple.

Were with I (not a subjunctive)
I weren't quite sure
I weren't watching

This usage seems to be confined to the past simple and not used with the present simple.

Some might simply classify this as wrong or a sign of a lack of education, but it is fairly common.

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Why is this regarded as dialect? Could we not simply view it as incorrect? Should we simply view it as incorrect? Why should this be thought of as dialect?

Many would consider them wrong, but they are used in certain groups in certain regions, which does make them problematic as NNESs would be marked wrong, while NESs use them.

You mention that this usage is common in the Midlands and Cockney. So is it dialect or usage? Or both? When does usage become nationally (if I can safely use that word which requires its own definition) acceptable?
I can see myself using but only verbally, "It was only two weeks ago that I thought I was going to be fired."
But never the other examples you gave. Also, we should bear in mind that print reporters are not the grammar gods, whether prescriptive or descriptive, of the English language.They eschew prepositions many times, and newpaper reporting is quite definitely not what it used to be as an example of good representational writing. It never was up to very much, but now, some print writers really set my teeth on edge!(I'm not talking about a good piece, or a good journalistic article.)While I'm about it, when I say "journalist" I'm putting it and what it infers "ahead" of "newspaper writing". Where is the difference I wonder? The difference for me is in quality of writing, yet is this always so?

I'm not sure that it has become nationally accepted. I don't know how it would be graded in NES tests in the North and the Midlands , but I do know its use is discouraged by the teahers I know in London.

I heard about an retired teacher who was in a bar with some friends when a man came up to her and proudly informed her 'You was my Engl9ish tecaher at school'. The poor woman had to spend the rest of the evening being teased by her friends for not being a very good one. ;-)

I request u send me more new Grammars.

I do not suppose this usage of " I were" would be considered correct in any part of the country. ( only in the subjunctive case). It is not standart English. In my opinion, it would be the same as saying in the US that " I ain't hungry" is correct. What do you reckon?

If a substantial number of native speakers use it, then some would argue that this makes it a valid form. I'm not sure, because, as a teacher, I would mark it wrong and not teach it as acceptable, but I grew up in an area where a lot used it, so it doesn't grate on my ear that much. ;-)

In answer to the first poster in this thread (Steve) - it can't and shouldn't be so easily dismissed as 'wrong'. I am from the North myself and have heard these 'errors' (and worse) frequently, however I'm open minded enough (as many more people should be) to recognise that regional variations are abundant, not only in English but in many other languages. I teach in Germany these days and their dialects can range from village to village (and Germany is a very strict grammatical language.) In Taiwan, the Chinese (and by that I mean Mandarin) varies not only from region to region, but also to the spoken language of the mailnland.

Language changes and will always change, and those who do not agree to this statement should tell me why we no longer speak Anglo Saxon, Latin, low French, or the language of Shakespeare .

Thank yew, thank yew very much!

I am an English Student studying Accents and Regional Dialect at present. I have carried out a test using serveral people from around the UK and I think its a shame that you should brand these words as "wrong", infact what is right and wrong when it comes to English,? There are so many different multi cultural races and classes using the language today its hard to tell! So Steve never say something is INCORRECT because who knows what is!! Individual accents and dialects are great...don't you think it would be rather boring if we all spoke the same!!??

Vive la difference!

i think gramm is very important and also it is not very important in english,i have never mention it and during read a lot of materail and some magazine and newspaper ,i found i can speak or writte some stuff without programme mistake ,however sometimes i make.
i try pay more attetion on gramme , but i found evern more i do this ,even more i can't improve my english gramme lever,so please give me some suggestion or advises,thank you!

i can't improve my english gramme lever,so please give me some suggestion or advises,thank you!

The assumption that dialectorial grammar and phraselogy is wrong is errorneous in the extreme. Several reasons exist for these differences, usually historical (In the case of was/were it harkens back to the racial distribution of dark age Britain).

If it was the case to dismiss these; surely that means that southern English people must be forced to stop extending the 'a' in words like bath (making 'bahth') as this was a minor trend, started by the upper classes in the eighteenth century. This must also be 'wrong'.

If you were to use dictionaries and grammar texts as an impirical source of "correct" English, then you'd have to say that the above usage is incorrect. However, if you take the view that the English language is a living entity rather than a sacred and untouchable convention, I think that the conclusion would be that usage creates new rules. As an ESL educator, I would not be apt to teach such uses to my students, but I think it's important to acknowlege the richness of regional differences in English. As a language that is spoken across the world, this is unavoidable. Where I live, in Japan, English words are constantly being adapted into the Japanese language, often with slightly different meanings than the original words, sometimes with strange results. My point is that cultural and geographic differences will often result in differences of usage, and this is not something that we should resist.

Where does the Enlish term for "Geordie" (refering to northeast english dialect) come from

Please can you email me some Grammars? I want my english to be polish and well spoken.

I also have an examination coming up on the 8th of May 2004,and Ii really do need this english.

Please send it into my mail box.

Waiting for your response.


Michael, here's the origin of 'Geordie':

For grammar, I'd recommend Michael Swan's Practical English Usage:
If you have more questions, go to our site forum:

Here you can talk directly to teachers- this section isn't really the place. Go there and tell them about your exam.

I need english teacher.

i think grammar is an important things to learn english.to get better in grammar u must study more about it and learn with somebody that is very good in this.that's all

yes it was right are you as smart all the time if is tell ah sister

I need more english grammar english to telugu

than q

I am an African . I was so surprised, the first time I stepped outside the African continent to England. It was then that I realized that even in England the so called Queens language does not exist in the form that we were used to in Africa. Most people I met in London kept saying "Me" instead of "My". Then I came to the U.S, boy was I more surprised. American English has transformed beyond what the British brought here. A word like "Whom" has completely disappeared, and they kept on saying "Was" instead of "Were" and "Is" instead of "Are" especially amongst the African Americans. I refused to change the way I speak, because I could not see myself saying "You is a bad boy" or "You was here yesterday". But Hey I guess this is the beauty of the language, it is like a tree with many branches.

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