Somebody asked me to explain more about ‘used to’ and ‘would’ and when we could use these. I have already wrtten this:
Used to do
We use ‘used to’ for something that happened regularly in the past but no longer happens.
- I used to smoke a packet a day but I stopped two years ago.
- Ben used to travel a lot in his job but now, since his promotion, he doesn’t.
- I used to drive to work but now I take the bus.
We also use it for something that was true but no longer is.
- There used to be a cinema in the town but now there isn’t.
- She used to have really long hair but she’s had it all cut off.
- I didn’t use to like him but now I do.
Here are a few more comments. I’ve looked up various different grammar books on this and found some disagreements. These are just my opinions, as an educated speaker of British English.
1. Different people seem to have different opinions about the question and negative forms.
-Some people think you say ‘used’ and some people that you say ‘use’.
I didn’t used to like him but I do now.
I didn’t use to eat tomatoes but I do now.
Did you used to swim at school?
Did you use to go to school by bus?
BBC English says that both forms are OK. I agree with that – but not everybody does.
2. Some people think that ‘used to’ should be a modal verb in its form. Other people think that it should be treated as a regular verb.
I used not to enjoy opera.
I didn’t use to enjoy opera.
I didn’t used to enjoy opera.
Used you to travel much before you had children?
Did you use to travel much before you had children?
Did you used to travel much before you had children?
I find the modal form very strange and I don’t believe I have ever used it. However, my favourite grammar writer insists that that is the ‘correct’ form. You can avoid the problem by asking a question in the past simple.
Did you travel much before you had children?
3. There are three situations in which we use ‘used to’. In two of these three situations, it is possible to use ‘would’ instead of ‘used to’.
When I was young, I used to go to the cinema on Saturday mornings.
When I was young, I would go to the cinema on Saturday mornings.
We often used to have no money when I was a child.
We would often have no money, when I was a child.
We used to live in Edinburgh.
I used to like her but I don’t any more.
4. ‘Would can also be used to talk about ‘willingness’ or ‘insistence’ in the past.
He would go to night clubs and would get into fights.
They would always offer me money because they knew I was a poor student.
Here are some exercises: