This exercise below is from my English book. I noticed that the author took the example from Macmillan Dictionary here (1.b)

They_____good friends, but they’ve fallen out recently.

a. used to be
b. would be
c. were
d. are

The given answer is (a), but I'm not sure if (c) can be a valid answer in this case. Is there any difference in meaning if I replace 'used to be' with 'were' in this sentence? Thanks

1 Answer 1


they used to be means "they were, but are no longer".

they were means only "they were".

Thus, were is valid there. However, if the sentence did not include "but they've fallen out recently", and you wanted to convey the idea they there had been a falling out, you would need to use used to be.

  • 1
    It's a bit more awkward (though probably not impossible) to contrive a context where would be would be acceptable in OP's context. But I don't have any problem at all with are. People can be good friends for decades even if they often fall out for short periods before getting the relationship back on an even keel. Jul 15, 2016 at 18:01
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    But there we're straying beyond grammar into the nature of friendship. We should simplify the example: He used to live in London.
    – TimR
    Jul 15, 2016 at 18:05
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    Any of the choices could be "correct," although as @FumbleFingers says, "would be" requires a complicated context. I'm willing to guess that this excerpt is from yet another "English book" written by an author whose first language is not English... Jul 15, 2016 at 20:20
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    @P. E. Dant: In this particular case I wouldn't like to say the choice of alternatives makes it significantly more likely the "test-setter" wasn't a native speaker. After all, reasonably competent non-native speakers should be capable of realising that although one answer is pragmatically far more likely to occur in real-world contexts, some or all of the others would be fine in certain other contexts. It just reminds me of dumbo "tests" like What is the next number in the series 3, 1, 4, 1, 5...? (Is it 9 from pi? 1 to complete the 3rd "digit couplet"? Something else?) Jul 15, 2016 at 20:55

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