Recently, one of my English Facebook friends wrote that she and her family had just survived a very cold May Bank Holiday weekend camping with snow on the hills. “We’re you in a caravan?” one of her friends asked. We’re for were? I understand problems with there/they’re/their, its/it’s, your/you’re, since these are homophones, and the absence or presence of the apostrophe is merely a matter of convention. But we’re/were are not homophones, so what is going on?
If you google for “we’re or were”, you get to a Dutch site called “Nu beter Engels”, which explains the difference between where, were and we’re. The site calls these words twijfelwoorden, a lovely word I hadn’t come across before either, which may be translated as “confusables”, a word I first came across in Her Ladyship’s Guide to the Queen’s English by Caroline Taggart (2010). The book has as many as THIRTY pages of them, but we’re/were is not included.
Googling for we’re/were also took me to Paul Brians’s website accompanying his book Common Errors in English Usage (2003): it was actually the first hit. Brians explains the difference between the two forms. I can see that they might be problematical for non-native speakers of English, but for native speakers of English, too? I would never have guessed it, but apparently so.