Where - were

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Were and where, along with ware - wear, form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.

These homophones have given trouble to generations of British schoolchildren south of the border. This is because speakers of English native to England rarely distinguish between w and wh.

  • Where is a conjunction, relative pronoun, or an interrogative depending on its grammatical context. Its general meaning is of place ~ 'in which place'. It is spelled with a w in front of the word for 'in this place', here.
  • Were is usually the plural form of the past tense of the verb 'to be.' It is spelled like the singular form, was - without an '-h-'. (The same word can also be a singular subjunctive, as in the phrase "If I were you.")

It is correct, and makes sense, to spell the common question as: Where were you?. It makes no sense at all to spell it: Were where you?, although in Hull and other local accents the two syllables sound exactly the same.

(If you are interested in language, you may care to observe that the changes in the consonants change the pronunciation of the vowels that follow them.)