Were You Going To Use Where Correctly?

Mixing were and where can lead you down some interesting temporal and positional paths, but unless you're a Time Lord, you should learn how to use them correctly. We're going to find out how.

Photo: Eva Blue

We are once again in homophone territory, because in spoken English, there's often no difference at all between where, were and we're.

In online writing, however, I come across this one all too frequently, and it's incredibly jarring because the meanings of the three words are starkly different.

Where is an adverb that refers to place or position, while were is the second person singular past, plural past, and past subjunctive of the word be, generally used to indicate mood or past events.

So to give a practical example: were you to get this wrong, I would stab you in the face. Where would I stab you? In the face.

It's also complicated by writers missing the apostrophe in we're, which is a contraction of "we are".

Autocorrect is sometimes to blame here, because all three words are entirely accurate English, but that's not an excuse if you want your communications to be clear. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


Comments

    We are once again in homophone territory, because in spoken English, there’s often no difference at all between where, were and we’re.

    Actually none of those words are homophones, which kind of puts the start of this article on the wrong foot if you're going for an air of grammar superiority.

    Where rhymes with air, were with err and we're with it's actual homophone weir.

    I know it's hard to get corrected by some random on the internet Mr Kidman, but accuracy matters.

      I came here to comment on exactly this, except for the difference in the pronunciation of where and we're. I think a lot of the time, at least in the Australian that I am used to hearing, people say we're much like they do where.
      "Where are we going? We're going to the movies"
      More often than not when people are talking casually as above, the two words do sound the same.

      I thought the same thing. The only time I can think of "were" sounding like "where" is in "werewolf". All other times they sound completely different.

      Maybe it's the people I talk to, but I generally hear "we're" as sounding a good deal closer to "air" than "weir". Arguably, "we're" should be pronounced as you suggest, but if we start down that road, I'd have to point out that you used "it's" incorrectly in your second sentence (as in "its actual homophone", not "it's actual homphone") - and that just encourages Alex to invoke Muphry's Law :)

      Agree with you on "were" though.

      I stand corrected (somewhat), although you're not accounting for accents within the use of english as it is spoken. But whatever. You can have your money back.

        Although some accents and mispronunciations will of course cause some weird changes that may make them appear closer to each other, considering this article was presented as a lesson in correct English I didn't consider it as very relevant.

        Of course being snippy and defensive after the tone in your article is kind of hillarious. You were the one who was pushing the whole accuracy matters aspect after all. More facts including correct pronunciations would make it more accurate right?

          Absolutely. I'm falling on my own sword as it is, and delighting in the pedantry. Did you want more? Should I wriggle around to make sure the largest part of my colon flops to the ground in an amusing fashion?

          (sidenote: Accents/Changes in English pronunciation can indeed be considered as part of "correct" English because language changes over time, but now I'm being pedantic. As you were.)

            Pedantry is the driver, behind this whole mind your language section afic..!

            I'm confused now, Alex.

            Are we being pedantic about being able to write right, or being able to right "right"?

    this is fucking grade four english....

    "were" - is pronounced significantly different to "where"

    so i don't know what the fuck you are on about???

      My dear friend, I would like to introduce thee, to thy horrible thing known as 'thy book of faces'. Or Facebook for short. Prepare to be mortified. It appears not many on Facebook attained a fourth grade education. After all, if you think this article is bad, prepare to have a heart attack.

      Last edited 28/07/14 2:09 pm

    So, we've established that where and were aren't homophones. There was some media discussion last week that we don't need to worry about spelling homophones differently to each other which sounded crazy to me. But then it was pointed out that when you say them in conversation you don't differentiate, it's all about context. I know which which you are using when you are talking about someone riding a broomstick.

    "Thy" meaneth "your"; it meaneth not "the", thou unlettered fellow.

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