Were, We're, and Where: How to Choose the Right Word

The terms have similar sounds and spellings but different meanings and uses

Confusing Where, We're, and Were

ThoughtCo / Claire Cohen

The words "were," "we're," and "where" are easily confused because they have similar sounds and spellings. They are not homophones—words that have the same sounds or spellings—and their meanings and uses are quite different. "Were" (rhymes with "fur") is a past form of the verb "to be." "We're" (rhymes with "fear") is a contraction of "we are." The adverb and conjunction "where" (rhymes with "hair") refers to a place.

How to Use Were

Use "were" as a past tense verb, as the:

  • First-person plural of "be" (We "were" busy last week.)
  • Second-person singular and plural of "be" (You "were" busy last week.)
  • Third-person plural of "be" (They "were" busy last week.)
  • Subjunctive of "be" for all persons (If I "were" you, I'd demand a raise.)

How to Use We're

Since "we're" is a contraction for "we are"—and in rarer cases "we were"—simply use "we're" when you want to write or say a shorter version of the first-person plural pronoun "we" and to be verb "are." The apostrophe replaces letter "a" (for "we are") or the letters "we" (for "we were, though that use is much less common). For example:

  • "We're" going back to work tomorrow.

In this sentence, which is perfectly acceptable English, you are saying: "We are" going back to work tomorrow.

How to Use Where

Use "where" as an adverb referring to a location, as in:

  • I don't know "where" you live.

Here, the writer is stating that she does not know "where" (at what place or location) the listener or reader lives. This word is also often used to start a question, such as:

  • "Where" do you live?

In the sentence, the speaker is trying to find out at what location the listener or reader lives. Often, the person speaking (or even writing, as in a letter or email), is trying to find the exact address where the person resides.

How to Remember the Differences

To determine the difference between "were" and "we're," try substituting "we are" for the word. If it works, you know you can use "we're." If it doesn't, you need "were." For example, take the sentence:

  • "We're" going to the movies.

You could swap in "we are" for "we're," and the sentence still makes sense:

  • "We are" going to the movies.

However, if you replace "were" for "we are," the sentence does not work:

  • "Were" going to the movies.

If you read the sentence aloud, your ear might tell you that the sentence lacks something. Indeed, it does: Since "were" is a past form of "to be," you are lacking a subject. The sentence would work if you added in the word "we," as in:

  • We "were" going to the movies.

When trying to determine the difference between "were" and "we're" versus "where," remember that "were" and "we're" are both "to be" verbs, or at least contain a "to be" verb; whereas, "where" always refers to a location. So, use the terms at the end of each sentence, as in:

  • You live "were?" (This is the past form of "are.")
  • You live "we're?" (This actually means: You live "we are?")

Both of these uses don't make sense. However, if you say:

  • You live "where?"

That sentence works, because you are ending the sentence with the location word, "where." To further clarify, swap out "where" with a location:

  • You live in California?
  • You live upstairs?
  • You live in Europe?
  • You live where?

Remember this trick, and you'll never confuse "where" for "were" and "we're."

Examples

To understand examples, simply apply the above rules and tricks to create sentences making up a brief narrative.

  • We're going to Savannah for St. Patrick's Day.

This sentence means "we are" going to a particular location, Savannah. The word "we're" contains the subject of the sentence, "we," as well as a verb "are."

  • But, we don't know where we'll be staying.

In this case, the term "where" refers to a location—or more specifically, the lack of a location. The writer/speaker does not know in what location his group will be staying.

  • Last year we were forced to sleep in the van.

In this sentence, the speaker describes a past action—last year—when the group (sans a location to stay) had to sleep in a vehicle. The following sentence—and the end of this brief narrative—uses all three terms:

  • We were lost in the middle of Timbuktu. No one knew where we were. Next time we travel, we're going to bring along a map.

In the first bolded word, the group (in the past) was lost. Therefore, no one knew "where" (the location) we "were" (past tense of "are"). Switching to the present, the writer notes that in the future, "we're" (we are) going to bring a map.

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