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I was talking to this guy about food, and I asked if his mom taught him how to cook when he was still living with her (he moved to my city 6 years ago). His response was: "...my mom was a great cook..." When he used the word "was", did he mean that his mom had already passed away? If not, why didn't he use "is a good cook" instead? I barely know him so I did not want to ask any personal questions. 2 cents from anyone is appreciated. :)

Thank you

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    I think most people would assume she is dead. The alternatives are relatively improbable, such as that she is now disabled, has dementia, etc. (and that her cooking skills would nonetheless be mentioned)
    – legatrix
    Dec 11, 2020 at 10:00

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There is a possibility that the speaker might have referred to a period in the past (when he was living with his mother), and that is why he chose was instead of is.

The one thing clear is that she is not a good cook now, or that now he no longer enjoys her qualities as a cook.

The speaker did not opt to say

My mom used to be a good cook.

But even if he did, the mystery remains.

So unless you hear more about her from your interlocutor, I do not think you can be sure.

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