Used to and would for past habits.

Used to and would for past habits.


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’.

Past Habits

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.

Repeated Happenings

We often used to have no money when I was a child.

We would often have no money, when I was a child.


Permanent States

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:

exercise 1

exercise 2

exercise 3

exercise 4

exercise 5


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  • Hello. I love your teachings. I teach business English in Japan and rarely teach grammer. However, I recently have become interested in the subject. Can you tell me, what are the different types of verbs?

    To answer your question, I am from America and I find ‘use to’ very ackward. ‘Used to’ sounds more natural. However, ‘used to’ sounds very strange when used in the form of a question. Strange, this language. In a question I would use ‘use,’ and I rarely would recommend writing ‘used to’ or ‘use to.’ It sounds right to me only when spoken.Now, I’m started to feel confused. I see why I didn’t like grammer in school!

    What do you think about globish?


    • Good day: Mr. michael shell. I saw your commentary from Pearson grammar teacher. On May 12, 2011 at 10:59 am.
      Let me ask you: I saw that you are a business English teacher in japan. Can you help me where can I find a good page site web to learn more about this?. Because I am studying Business English. Appreciate your attention. Thank very much. And excuse me.

  • I’m used to a variety of U.S. dialects, although I’m not as up-to-date as I used to be. In response to your question, I have the feeling that “used to” is slang – or at best – spoken language. I grew up in Southern California and was exposed to lots of different dialects because of the enormous migration at that time. I used to think that it was a form used mainly by the less educated or in dialect. Well, that’s my two cents worth.

  • A friend gave me this lesson and I liked it a lot. I would like to receive your lessons by mail but I can’t find where can I register or ask that. Can you help me? Thanks!

  • I’ve always learnt it this way: after the auxiliaries do, does or did use the base form of the verb concerned. So we say: I didn’t use to ……. , although I find it rather awkward and jarring to use this construction, especially in the negative. I think in spoken language speakers go for simpler expressions. So instead of saying: ‘I didn’t use to go there’ they say: ‘I never went there’ or ‘I was never in the habit of going there’.


  • first of all i wanna thank you for your explaination but i have a question why sometimes used to follows by verb + ing , and another time it follows by verb at the present form what is the difference

  • well well….what do we have in here? Did someone USED (ED) to ……? Honestly I´ve never heard of this grammar formation before.As far as I am aware of ..the “USE” thing can be seen as a modal verb only.

    E.g. “Did you use to cook when you are younger? Yes I did or Yes I used to OR .No I didn´t use to..

    Did you USED TO cook? It´s completely unlikely!! Never seen anything like it b4!

    Its concept consists of highlighting past habits which are no longer being done. I used to do something..not anymore!! It´s past now!

    There is another grammar thing like ( I AM USED TO TALKING TO STRANGERS ),like you are in regular habit of doing something like “NOW” or a present routine.Has nothing to do with past events.

  • “used to” for positive -“I used to like learning grammar”
    “use to” for negative and questions – “I didn’t use to like tomatoes”
    “Where did you use to live before you came here?”

  • Dear Mr Pearson

    many thanks for your free online lessons.
    I have a question that many non-native speakers(students) wish to get a clarification.

    How can you ask a question to get the answer : He is the first president he is the second etc
    For example: idea to ask the question is What number is Barak Obama in the order of presidency in the US ?
    How is this question asked in standard English? Thanks in advance.Awaiting a reply.


  • Irian Vasallo Bàez

    May 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Dear Pearson
    I love the grammar lessons every day. They are really important for my teaching lessons and for me to improve the language.
    thank you once more
    Irian from Cuba

  • Hi, my teacher,
    Thank you very much for your useful lessons. I lovethem very much. I find them interesting because I love English.
    I come from Viet Nam. I am a student who is sudying English at university as the second language. I always desire to know all the espect of grammar as well as words or something relating to English.
    Your lesson helps me a lot because that is the problem I am caring about. Until now, I still be confused of the word ”used to”. I don’t know what is the most appreciate form to use, because there are too many different opinion about its form. I don’t know. Even my teachers at school sometimes get confused.
    I’ll highly apreciate it if you don’t mind giving me some links as well as reference books or website to consult.
    Thank you so much!

  • I am learning english by your post. So far, I have learnt a lot and knew number of application of verbs. I like to learn more and more from you.

  • niceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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