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Overusing the word "was"?

In writing articles about a historical subject I tend to use the word "was" a lot. Is this inevitable writing in the past tense or should I try to use the word less?

Comments

  • If it's catching your eye, try rephrasing to avoid it. 
  • I am serial WAS(er) I systematically de-WAS my writing after every draft - there are other ways of conveying the past and as Baggy says if you notice it - the reader will too.

    I am reading a best selling book at the moment and the was's are getting on my nerves!!
  • edited November 13

    Here's a couple of paragraphs from an article I had published a while back. What suggestions do you have to change the occurrences of "was" where appropriate?

    "In 1936 Whittle formed the Power Jets Ltd company and trialled a prototype engine the following year. At that time there was no inevitability of success. Funding required to develop a jet aircraft came from needs of the second world war which drove many technological improvements. Whittle had met with the Gloster company's chief designer, George Carter, who showed interest in making a jet powered aircraft, and so the Air Ministry's contract to build Britain's first jet aircraft was awarded to Gloster.

    The first aircraft – a prototype designed by Carter – was small with an air intake in the nose. Officially designated as the Gloster E.29/39, it was also known as the Gloster Whittle, Gloster Pioneer, and Gloster G.40. It first flew from RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire on May 15, 1941. However, a twin engine design with a cruciform tail known as the F.9/40 later became the Gloster Meteor."


  • You don't have a problem with that example because of the strong factual content. In a weaker piece, the use would be a distraction. If you started rephrasing the content to avoid them, you'd affect your voice and the flow. 
  • You don't have a problem with that example because of the strong factual content. In a weaker piece, the use would be a distraction. If you started rephrasing the content to avoid them, you'd affect your voice and the flow. 
    Thanks. I guess it's a matter of judgement. In factual pieces I do try to avoid excessive use of "was" if there's a suitable way to re-word it without making it clunky.
  • Not specific to the use of was, something I find helpful is changing word order in a sentence or shortening a longer sentence into two. Helps with word count, too.

    Agree with Baggy that in the example you quote I don't find was overused or obtrusive.
  • Neither did I.
  • We all think we overuse certain words but they're not always as bad in the bigger picture when you're writing an article.
  • One way of avoiding "was" is to avoid using passive voice. Use active and you eliminate the verb "to be."

    "In 1936 Whittle formed the Power Jets Ltd company and trialled a prototype engine the following year. At that time there was no inevitability of success. Funding required to develop a jet aircraft came from needs of the second world war which drove many technological improvements. Whittle had met with the Gloster company's chief designer, George Carter, who showed interest in making a jet powered aircraft, and so the Air Ministry's contract to build Britain's first jet aircraft was awarded to Gloster.

    The first aircraft – a prototype designed by Carter – was small with an air intake in the nose. Officially designated as the Gloster E.29/39, it was also known as the Gloster Whittle, Gloster Pioneer, and Gloster G.40. It first flew from RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire on May 15, 1941. However, a twin engine design with a cruciform tail known as the F.9/40 later became the Gloster Meteor."

  • In the first para you could say "At that time he could not be certain of success." By personalising the sentence you remove the need to use the reporter's word 'was'. 
    But it's not obtrusive - you've perhaps become oversensitive about the word 🙂
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