The tricky points
and when to use used
to when describing past events
As explained in the
page on past tenses
in English, the auxiliary used to is
used to express a finished habit, or terminated action or
Students must remember that used to
is always used in the preterite (past) form. There is no present form.
to in affirmative
Use of this auxiliary in affirmative declarative
statements is fairly easy to master, as the examples below show :
- When I lived in London, I used to cycle to work..
- They used to have fast trains on this line, but not
- It's amazing to think that over 20,000 people used to
live here a century ago.
- The kids used to be driven to school, but now they
take the bus.
- He always used to consult with experts, but now he
makes his own decisions.
- His eyes are humbler than they used to be.
(Shakespeare: Henry V).
Without using an adverb of time, used to
(note the spelling) is the only way in English of specifying
a finished habit or a terminated situation.
Although used to
is found more commonly in spoken English, it is in no way true to say
(as some grammar websites claim) that it is informal, and not
used in formal writing. Here are some examples from formal
- As recently as the 1980s people used to work in the
USA and live in Mexico, the crossing being a daily routine
(Lifeforce Magazine 2014)...
- Why are Americans less charitable than they used to
(TheAtlantic.com - buisness archive 2016)
- Holiday shoppers are not spending like they used to
- The United Kingdom used to be extremely good at
taking the opportunity to innovate. (Hansard -
UK parliament- 2016).
While used to
is easily and commonly used in affirmative declarative
statements, using it in interrogative and/or negative
sometimes problematical, even for native English speakers..
to in negative
There are two possible forms - did not
use to / didn't use to and used not to
. A third form,
usedn't to, is not normally considered to be standard
The difference in usage is generally stylistic and contextual . Didn't use
to is more common in spoken English ; used not to
is considered more formal and more appropriate in written English.
to is not commonly used except in Ireland Scotland and New
Do not make this common mistake. Do not write did
not used to.
This is generally considered to be bad grammar.
- I didn't use to believe in love at first
- The shop didn't use to sell fresh fish, but now it
- The river didn't use to flood every year, as it does
- I can speak Greek now, though I didn't use to be able
- They want to work with people they care about. It
used not to be that way. (The
- Other policy reforms, that we
used not to think of as macroeconomic, are critical... (IMF -
- This used
not to be a problem but it's now rather worrying.
to in questions
to is not
commonly used in questions in standard English. However it
will be used in spoken English if the speaker wishes to stress
the circumstances of finished habit, or terminated situation.
There are two possible structures:
:Rather than using either of these uncommon forms, English speakers
will more commonly use a simple past tense, as in Did you?
you use to ? or Didn't you use to...?
there to be? or Used there not to be
Curiously, perhaps the most commonly found interrogative use
to is in negative questions, as in Didn't you use to be friendly
with my sister?
Examples (for information only...
use these forms with great care ) :
you use to be friendly with my sister?
- Didn't there use to be a cinema here in the olden
- How often used he to play a round of golf ?
: used to
or be used to
Students learning English frequently confuse the two similar but
entirely different expressions used
to and be
If the words used
to are followed by a noun or a pronoun object, they
must be being used in the expression be used to or
one of its forms.
To be used to is
a verbal expression meaning "to
be accustomed to do" or "to be in the habit of doing"
something. When followed by a verb, the verb will always be in the form
of a gerund (-ing form)
I'm quite used to it.
Canadians are used to
long cold winters.
The President is
used to consulting with his team of advisors.
with: The President used to consult
with his team of advisors
Are you used to
running marathons ?
with: Did you use to run
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