Why “Became” is NOT the Same as “Were” and “Was”

written by Mikaela Cowles on February 25, 2016 in Editing with no comments

Why Became is NOT the Same as Were and Was

When I was in school banned words were the four-letter kind that begin with F and S.

Banning cuss words made sense then. It does now. And it probably will forever. However, the latest trend of eliminating words such as “bad” and “good” is beyond me. In November of last year, James Hagerty’s Wall Street Journal article, “‘Use More Expressive Words!’ Teachers Bark, Beseech, Implore,” explained teachers found these words to be vague and dull. 

Costa Mesa, California’s Leslie Shelton went so far as to call them “dead words.”

Ms. Shelton, I may be willing to admit these words are dull. But dead? I’m not quite ready to throw Webster’s to the curb.

If this list of banned words also had you scratching your head, it’s nothing compared to the ones I more recently encountered.

A client’s daughter needed help with an English essay. It was comprised of several requirements. These included: clearly stating an argument, properly formatting a Works Cited Page, properly using in-text citation, and not using a list of banned words.

What made the list? All forms of “to be” – am, are, is, were, and was.

I wanted to scream. I still do.

Here was this poor girl struggling to not only create a comprehensive argument, but to put it in complete sentences. Why, why on all that is holy, did her teacher strip her of “to be”? That’s like stealing an amputee’s leg and then asking them to run across the room. It’s cruel. It’s illogical. Frankly, it’s counterintuitive to developing a strong writer.

Not knowing any better, she replaced each use of “were” and “was” with “became.” It was a practice, which I learned, the teacher accepted.

Forgive the break. I thought you, like I, could use it.

After discussing the difference between the three words (“were” and “was” mean to actually be a thing and “became” means to have transformed into a thing), we rewrote the sentences together. The only reason this step made her paper stronger was the additional number of revisions required and my help (or so I’d like to think).

The moral of the story is: “to be” verbs rock, revisions are vital for success, and make sure your students know the basics before you ask them to handle complex assignments.


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