Now that conservationists are around, things are returning to what they once were.

If synonymous with:

Now that conservationists are around, things are returning to what they were before.

Are the sentences above the same as for their meaning?


Yes. The sentences are the same in meaning.

The meaning of "once was/were" is "as before", "like before," "as in the past":

in the past, but not now:

This house once belonged to my grandfather.
Computers are much cheaper nowadays than they once were.
Once-thriving villages stand deserted and in ruins.

From sense B1, once https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/once

  • 1
    The Help page tells you about symbols such as A1, A2, B1, etc.: "These symbols show the English Profile level of a word, phrase or meaning. For example, a word that has a B1 symbol is a word that intermediate learners of English usually know." – userr2684291 Mar 11 '18 at 14:49
  • Hello, I remember you. If the posted question's examples are the same, then why did they just say ,''things are returning to what they were before''(this is from my sentence construction) rather than ''things are returning to what they once were''(from a clip) right? Is this a show-off of vocabulary? Coz it sounds more impressive, I think... – John Arvin Mar 11 '18 at 15:58
  • 1
    @John The once were version is, or can be, relatively more formal than the were before version, but it is not necessarily show-off language, as I think of it. – Jim Reynolds Mar 11 '18 at 16:25

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