Let's say Mario would be a retired soldier. What is the difference between these two(are they of the same meaning?)

Mario used to be a soldier.


Mario had been a soldier.

Thx in advance.

  • 1
    There is no semantic difference. You might use them differently, and both depend on the context, but either way you're saying much the same thing.
    – Andrew
    Feb 4, 2018 at 20:52
  • 2
    Mario used to be a soldier and is now a policeman. Mario had been a soldier before he became a policeman. It depends on what you want to say.
    – Lambie
    Feb 4, 2018 at 20:59
  • @Lambie, got it. I think those are a good introductory clause before you say ...is now a policeman and ...before he became a policeman. Seems like I'm going to be a familiar name to you coz I am really doing a tremendous boost in my English. Thx again man
    – John Arvin
    Feb 4, 2018 at 21:20
  • @JohnArvin Glad to be of help.
    – Lambie
    Feb 4, 2018 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


I'm going to swipe Lambie's example:

Mario used to be a soldier and is now a policeman.

Mario had been a soldier before he became a policeman.

There is no real difference in meaning between these sentences. They are just two ways of saying that something was true in the past, but isn't now.

I should add this is normally the case. There is a popular joke by the comedian Mitch Hedberg:

I used to do drugs ... I still do, but I used to, too.”

"Used to" strongly implies that you don't do that thing anymore, but it doesn't rule out the possibility that you still do that thing (or even that you ever stopped). This joke is funny because it defies this expectation.

In the same way, "had done" only describes the relationship of two events in time. It doesn't necessarily mean that you stopped for good.

I had been in a band before I graduated college, but I got back into it last year.

"Had done" doesn't really work in the Hedberg joke, because you'd have to explain what event caused you to stop, and because it does imply that you actually did stop, at least for a time.

  • Hello, thx for that. To clarify these, 'used to'-is a stopped action(but a possible chance you still do it at present) while 'had been' is also a stopped action, but you have to explain further. But WHY do you have to explain more? And you said 'at least for a time', from my understanding in 'had' usage, it will never connect past actions to present times, so I think you shouldn't have included that last clause coz' it can confuse a reader(although it's true)
    – John Arvin
    Feb 5, 2018 at 12:27
  • Also, when you say 'used to do' it ends there right?(in the past) so it stucks just in the past. Then, for me, a person should not say 'used to' if he/she could still do them from this day onwards. They should instead say, 'It could be an ON AND OFF' vice' am I right?
    – John Arvin
    Feb 5, 2018 at 13:12
  • @JohnArvin. "used to" strongly implies that you don't do it any more. You don't have to explain anything. "I used to dance ballet", without further context, means I don't dance it now. I just offered that joke to show how this expectation can be twisted into humor.
    – Andrew
    Feb 5, 2018 at 15:51

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