......As a result, the news in letters was already out of date when people received it.

1) Is it better to use "were" in this case as we are talking about news in several letters?

2) also should I use "had been" instead of were?

  • I have no idea what "news in letters" is referring to . . . Do you mean the news that was told to me in a letter I received? If so, then news is singular. But if you say the several pieces of news I received then make it plural. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 23:09
  • @JasonBassford yes, and in that (plural) example, the object is pieces, as in pieces were already out of date
    – De Novo
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 0:07
  • @Jason Bassford, Yes. It is extracted from essay talking about the evolution of postal service. The essay was in grammar book that suggests to use "was", but I think it should be "were".
    – Costa
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 13:22

1 Answer 1


"news" is always used with a singular verb, so you'll need "the news was". "in letters" clarifies which news "was already out of date".

see TFD

news (no͞oz, nyo͞oz) pl.n. (used with a sing. verb)

Re: question 2, because it's a single event (when people received the news, at that specific moment in time, it was out of date), you want the simple past (was, rather than had been).

  • but there are several pieces of news because the context is taking about people (not just one person) receiving it.
    – Costa
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 18:02
  • @Costa pieces, letters, and people are plural. news is not. If news is the subject, you have to use the singular verb. Notice how they also use it, not them. The news was out of date when people received it. It just happens to be the rule for the word news
    – De Novo
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 18:10

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