When to use 'used to' in English
Take a look at these four sentences. They are all correct except one – can you guess which one is wrong?
I used to live in Paris.
I use to drink coffee in the morning.
I’m used to waking up early.
I’m getting used to my new job.
The incorrect sentence is the second one – I use to drink coffee in the morning.
If you got this wrong, you’re not alone – this is one of the most common problems with learning English.
The first thing to note is this: you can’t say ‘use to’ in a positive sentence.This may seem strange, but it’s true, and if you can remember this it will help you a lot. (If someone says ‘I used to’ you may THINK they’re saying ‘use to’ but they aren’t. The ‘d’ is almost impossible to hear.)
If you want to talk about your habits or routine, you could say ‘usually’ or ‘generally’, for example:
I usually drink coffee in the morning. (NOT ‘I use to’!)
Now let’s look again at the three correct sentences. This time they have been extended to make their meanings clearer.
1 I used to live in Paris, but now I live in New York.
2 I’m used to waking up early, so I don’t need an alarm clock.
3 I’m getting used to my new job, though some things are still difficult.
You can see the structure of sentence 1 is different from 2and 3. That’s because it has a different meaning. We’re going to focus on sentence 1 first:
I used to live in Paris, but nowI live in New York.
What does ‘used to live’ mean?
When you say ‘I used to do something’ it means you did it in the past, as a habit or routine. It’s generally understood that you don’t do it now.
Look carefully at the structure:
live (in Paris)
To ask a question, the form is the same as for other past simple questions:
Did you use to live here?
The negative form is also the same:
I didn’t use to live here. (Note: ‘I usen’t’ is possible but very unusual. ‘I didn’t used’ is incorrect.)
Try this exercise for practice (answers below)
1) I (use) to play football every week, but I don’t have time anymore.
2) Katia (not use) to like dancing, but since she took some dance classes she loves it.
3) We always (use) to stop and say hello when we passed our aunt’s house on the way to school.
4) You (use) to play the piano when you were younger?
5) People (not use) to travel so much when I was young; they (use) to stay at home.
6) Where you (use) to live before you came here?
1) I used to play football every week, but I don’t have time anymore.
2) Katia didn’t use to like dancing, but since she took some dance classes she loves it.
3) We always used to stop and say hello when we passed our aunt’s house on the way to school.
4) Did you use to play the piano when you were younger?
5) People didn’t use to travel so much when I was young; they used to stay at home.
6) Where did you use to live before you came here?
To hear some examples of songs using this structure, click here:
So – even if you used to find this form confusing, hopefully now you find it easy!
Sentences 2 and 3
In the first exercise we had three correct sentences.
Let’s briefly compare their structure:
Used to do
1 - I used to live in Paris (but now I live in New York)
Subject + used to + infinitive
Past habit or routine
Be used to doing
2 - I’m used to waking up early (so I don’t need an alarm clock)
3 - I’m getting used to my new job (though some things are still difficult)
Subject + be/get + used to + noun/gerund
Being/getting accustomed to or familiar with something
We’ve looked at 1, so now we’ll look at 2 and 3, which are clearly different in structure from 1. That’s because the meaning is different.
To be used to something = to be accustomed to/familiar with something:
I’m used to noise – I have three teenage children! (n)
I’ve always lived in big cities, so I’m used to driving in heavy traffic (g)
To get used to something = to be in the process of being accustomed:
I come from a small village, so it took me a long time to get used to driving in heavy traffic.
I’m still getting used to the noise outside my window at night.
Note: be/get used to can be used with any tense. Examples:
I wasn’t used to working in a team when I started this job.
Have you got used to your new car yet?
Marco is from Seville and is now studying in London. When he first arrived, he found these things quite strange:
Driving on the left
This is how he feels after three months:
Driving on the left wasn’t easy at first but it’s fine now = I’m used to driving on the left.
The weather is cold and rainy, but I don’t notice it so much now = I’m getting used to the weather
The food is awful! I’ve tried to like it but I just don’t = I’m not used to the food/maybe I’ll never get used to the food.
Click here for more practice: https://speakspeak.com/english-grammar-exercises/intermediate/used-to-be-used-to-get-used-to
Click here for an example of a song that uses ‘get used to’:
Finally, try to put everything together in this short exercise(answers below):
You’ll soon get used to this system but now it’s grey.
I used to have dark hair so she’s often tired in the evenings.
Anya isn’t used to working late it’s quite easy to use.
You’ll soon get used to this system - it’s quite easy to use.
I used to have dark hair but now it’s grey.
Anya isn’t used to working late, so she’s often tired in the evenings.