I have a question. When is "were" used instead of "was" for a singular form. Example: "If I were a bird, I would fly". Why isn't it "If I was a bird...".

In what context should were be used vs. was.

Thanks fellas.
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"Were" used this way is called the subjunctive mood.

This mood is used to express a wish or possible situation that is currently not true. It's usually used with words like "if" and "wish".

Other examples:

"I wish I were a sea cucumber."

"If I were you, I would eat less bacon."
Problems with the subjunctive, for non-native speakers of English, may arise because English doesn't have a subjunctive mood 'proper', so to speak, so it has to 'borrow' verb forms that usually belong to the indicative mood.
The "subjunctive WERE", as Randolph Quirk calls it, is hypothetical in meaning and is used in conditional (type II) and concessive sentences and in subordinate clauses after verbs like 'wish'.
For the verb 'to be', the form is 'were' for all persons.
"How I wish you were here. We're just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl..." (Pink Floyd!!)

The use of 'was' in the 1st and 3rd singular is common in less formal style.
The following sentences, in which 'were' is used for the 1st and 3rd persons singular, are examples of what is called 'marked' subjunctive.

"I wish Thomas were here."
"I would visit him if he were lonely."
"He looked at me as if I were a monster."

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so in what cases do you use "was"?
Perhaps I caused some confusion here? I'll try to fix it.

when you are using the simple past, you use 'was' for the 1st and 3rd persons singular, and you use 'were' for the other persons:
"I/He/She/It was here yesterday."
"We/You/They were here yestersay."

Now, in conditional sentences or in any other instances in which the subjunctive mood is needed, you can use 'was' for the 1st and 3rd persons singular in informal English:
"If I was you, I'd tell her."
"I wish he was older."

Now, in formal English, and mainly in writing, you use 'were' for all persons.
"I wish you were here."
"I wish he were here."

When it comes to the subjunctive, you have a choice, but remember "appropriateness". If you're applying for a job or writing an academic paper just to mention two examples the more formal your style, the better.

"I wish I/he was..." is very informal. Many people would pass judgement on a speaker's education on hearing them say this.

I'm not trying to start an argument with anyone, but I suggest that people don't even bother to learn this version of the subjunctive. If you know it, forget it. Just keep in mind that some people will use it out of habit or because they don't know better.
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God bless you for that post, Ryan!! Emotion: smile

I try to be very careful when I post about usage because I don't live in an English-speaking community.
My English comes mainly from teachers and books, and then also from films, songs, and a few American and British friends I have. I know that's not enough for me to qualify as a good source when it comes to English usage. A couple of days ago, I posted that "way" and "yes way" don't exist as opposites of the expression "no way"... and later I found out I was wrong!

I didn't want to make the same mistake here. I've heard people say "I wish I/he was", yet I don't use it myself, and even when I tell my students about it, I advise them not to use that form. I am completely pro "good" English if such a thing actually exists and I tend to be formal myself, but I'd hate to sound too "prescriptive" on these boards. Also, my opinions sometimes sound as if I were passing judgement on other people's actions, so I've been trying to keep my comments "mild", so to speak.

And it's because of all the above that I thank you for an explanation so clear and to the point! Emotion: smile)

I suppose that the best advice would be to save the subjunctive 'were' for formal writing and ESL tests. Were one to use it elsewhere, one could seem pretentious.

Glad to help. But really, your post covered everything quite nicely. I was merely pointing out a pitfall of using informal language. Anyway, English wouldn't be English if there weren't many different ways to say the same thing.

Note to students: Nestor's got a nice little joke nested in his post...Don't avoid the correct form.
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