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мне/тебе/ему etc. [x]" constructions tend to use было in the past tense regardless of whether or not there is an agent of the verb

someone told me this and i still quite understand it i was given this as an example sentence:

а в Англию приехала учиться в институте, когда ей было 22 года.

i don't quite get why it is было and when to know there is an exception like this?

i have been having a hard time with these exceptions and was just looking for some advice on this stuff aswell. Should i just memorize these as they are well these types of irregularities pop up?

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You need to research the topic of impersonal sentences, in which the verb (and sometimes an adjective) (predicate) is always in neuter gender.

когда ей было 22 года is a subordinate clause and so essentially a sentence in its own right and it lacks an agent (subject) being impersonal.

Было is a predicate in this impersonal sentence and thus is neuter.

Another example

Когда я проснулся, за окном было ещё темно - When i woke up it was still dark outside

Expressions indicating age always lack subject and put an object in Dative (ей). In the present tense they always lack verb - мне 25 лет, моему ребёнку 2 года but in past/future tense - мне было/будет 25 лет, моему ребёнку было/будет 2 года.

However when the age is counted in months and days and its number ends with 1 (bar 11 including hundreds and thousands 111 etc, 1,011 etc, 111,000 etc) in the past tense the verb conjugates in masculine - был 1 месяц/день, был 21 месяц/день and so forth.

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    I'm pretty sure the last part works for years as well, i.e. Мне был один год. It's a quirk of numerals ending with 1 in general. – Alice Sep 2 at 13:24
  • @Alice indeed, i just didn't include years i guess because it's two words for singular (год) and plural (лет), so it's a special case – Баян Купи-ка Sep 3 at 6:32

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