‘Is' vs 'Was': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on June 19, 2023

Every English speaker or writer must know the difference between 'is' vs. 'was.'  So, if you are unsure about these terms and how to use them, this guide will help.

Here is a quick answer: 

  • 'Is' is the present tense form of the verb be.
  • 'Was' is the past tense form of the verb be.

There is much more to learn about these common words. Stick around until the end of this post to learn the definitions, meanings, and pronunciations of both terms.

What is the Difference Between 'Is' vs. 'Was'

'Is' and 'was' are both forms of the verb be. However, you use 'is' in the present tense and 'was' in the past tense. Both terms are first and third-person singular verbs. So, you only use them when you are describing a singular noun.

So, both terms are forms of the verb be, but you use 'is' to describe something that is currently taking place and 'was' to describe past events, characteristics, or connections.

When to You Use 'Is' vs. 'Was'

Both of these terms are forms of the same verb. So, how do you know when and how to use 'is' vs. 'was?'

  • Use 'is' when your noun is singular and you are describing an action taking place currently.

For example, you could say:

He is going to a meeting this morning. After he is finished, he will return to the office, but he might not be back until this afternoon. 

  • Use 'is' to ask about details or qualities of a subject.

For example, I might say:

Is your bike the blue one with the horn and streamers?

  • Use 'is' to show a current correlation with something.

For example, someone might tell you:

She is my best friend. I have known her since I was five years old, and we have never fought or gone more than a week without talking.

  • Use 'was' when you are using a singular noun and you are describing an action that took place in the past.

For example, someone might say:

He was on his way to a meeting when he saw a stray dog walking down the street. He knew he would be late, but he couldn't leave the helpless puppy in the street. 

  • Use 'was' to describe the qualities something had in the past.

For example, you might hear someone say:

The theater was beautiful in its heyday. 

  • Use 'was' to indicate a past relationship with something or someone.

For example, you might say:

He was her high school sweetheart, but they broke up shortly after graduation. 

Definition of 'Is': What Does 'Is' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of 'is' is:

  • The third-person singular present-tense form of the verb be.

It could also mean:

  • The first and third-person singular present tense dialectal form of the verb be.
  • The present tense singular dialectal form of the verb be.

Definition of 'Was': What Does 'Was' Mean?

The same resource defines 'was' as:

  • The first and third-person past tense forms of the verb be.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Is' vs. 'Was'

Now, let's look at the pronunciation of these words because knowing how to correctly say them will give you more confidence when you are speaking or writing.

Here is a pronunciation guide: 

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'is':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to correctly pronounce 'was';


Sample Sentences Using 'Is' vs. 'Was'

Here are sample sentences using 'is' vs. 'was.' Read through them to ensure that you know how to use both terms.


  • When is your doctor's appointment? I can take you, but I need to know a couple of days in advance.
  • As the class valedictorian, she is responsible for writing our graduation commencement speech.
  • Is that what you are going to wear to the gala? It is beautiful, but the color is bright, and the material is reflective.
  • This is never going to work. This is a project that requires careful budgeting and planning.
  • The election is tonight, but we might not know the winner until tomorrow. It takes time to count all of the ballots.
  • What is the status of your report? The board of directors wants to see something before the end of the day. Can you pull that off?
  • It is critical that you arrive 30 minutes before your appointment. If you arrive late, the doctor will not see you.
  • If this is your first trip to the island, you have to visit the waterfalls. They are breathtaking.


  • What exactly was your plan? Were you actually going to knock on the door when you got to his house?
  • Was she the one responsible for watching the children? If so, she shouldn't have been taking a nap.
  • How was your time off work? Did you go on vacation or stay in town? Hopefully, if you went on vacation, it didn't cost an arm and a leg.
  • Where was the suspect when you saw him? Was he standing by the victim or on the other side of the street like he claims?
  • There was nowhere for him to go after his home was destroyed by the fire last year.
  • John was distraught when his girlfriend broke up with him. To add insult to injury, she was dating his best friend.
  • He was hired on the spot. Before he left their office, they were already welcoming him aboard.
  • She was trying to quit cold turkey, but she didn't have the will power.

Final Thoughts on the Difference Between 'Is' vs. 'Was'

After reviewing so much information, looking at a recap is a good idea.

So, here is a quick review of the difference between 'is' vs. 'was':

  • 'Is' is the present-tense form of the verb 'be.'
  • 'Was' is the past-tense form of the verb 'be.' 

These words are some of the most commonly used in the English language. So, if you forget how to use them, you can return to review this lesson.

You can also learn about other commonly misused terms in the confusing word guides here. Each contains definitions, grammar tips, pronunciation, and further details to help you remember how to use each phrase.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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