Can I say?

1 If I point to a person and only say "He was a doctor.", so will the hearer understand that "He was a doctor in the past and he isn't a doctor now. / He was a doctor before and he isn't a doctor now. / He used to be a doctor and he isn't a doctor now." or I have to say clearly that "He was a doctor when he was young. / He was a doctor before"?

2 If I point to a person and only say "He was a thief.", so will the hearer understand that "In the past, he was a thief and he isn't a thief now. / He was a thief before and he isn't a thief now. / He used to be a thief and he isn't a thief now." or I have to say clearly that "He was a thief when he was young. / He was a thief before"?

Original Post

Hello, Kimconu,

When you initiate a discussion thread, please try to choose a meaningful title -- one that conveys what you perceive to be the grammatical topic of the thread. Even a generic title like "the past tense" is better than a non-descriptive title.

The sentence "He was a doctor/thief" is a sentence about the past. It doesn't say anything about the present. If I say, "He was in the kitchen five minutes ago," that doesn't mean that he is not in the kitchen now.

Suppose you met "him" while you were abroad. He was a doctor or a thief at that time. You haven't seen him or heard anything about him since. In such a context, "He was a doctor/thief" could be used even if he was still a doctor or a thief.

I agree with everything David says, but I'd like to add a few points.

Generally speaking, one does not cease to be a doctor until he dies.  We might say:

a: He is a medical doctor, but is no longer practicing.

Even if his license to practice medicine has been revoked, he still has his doctorate degree and is therefore still a doctor.  Thus, I wouldn't point to someone and say "He was a doctor.", but I might say:

b: The person I met yesterday was a doctor.

just as I might say:

c: The person I met yesterday was a tall black man.

As David, says, there is nothing in (b) to imply that the person in question is no longer a doctor, and it would be silly to assume that the person in (c) is no longer a tall black man.

A thief, on the other hand, can reform himself and cease to be a thief.  To convey this meaning, you want to say "used to" rather than "was":

d: He used to be a thief.

strongly implies that he isn't anymore.  This doesn't work with "murderer", though.  Once a man has murdered somebody, the stigma of being a murderer tends to stay with him for life.

DocV

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