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The uses of ‘used to’

Well, I am so used to writing grammar.com articles that anything I see or hear transforms into an idea for a new article! Off late, I heard few friends talking about old and new habits, so here is one dedicated to habits – doing something that you are used to!

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  Ramya Shankar  —  Grammar Tips
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Used to

Used+to – the combination usually lets the speaker tell about a habit. It could be in the past, present or future. When used in the past tense, it generally refers to habits that are now discontinued. For example

·         I used to be fond of my English teacher when I was in 9th grade.

·         I used to read a lot of books.

·         He never used to take my permission.

·         We used to live in London.

·         We were used to consuming little alcohol every weekend.

·         I don’t think he used to smoke earlier.

All these sentences are suggestive that these scenarios were true at some point of time in the past but are no longer true. Notice that the last sentence is in the present, but talks about a past habit.

In present tense, ‘used to’ refers to familiar situations. Examples

·         I am used to sleeping with my spectacles on.

·         My grandparents are used to taking sleeping pills.

·         I have become used to the city’s ever-changing weather.

·         They are used to playing soccer every evening.

·         My sister is used to staying up until late in the night.

Note that in each of the sentences, the speaker is talking about familiarity with a place, habit or activity.

In the future, you can use ‘used to’ to still talk about possible habits. Example

·         By the time you get used to the cold weather, it will be summer again.

·         You will soon be used to the culture here.

·         When will she start getting used to the new routine?

‘Used to’ vs ‘was used to’

Consider the following sentences –

 

SENTENCE

IMPLICATION

1

I used to study for 12 hours in a day!

in certain special contexts in the past, example during exam time.

2

I was used to studying for 12 hours a day!

Earlier. probably when I was a kid, but it is not true now. It was a habit – always.

3

I am used to studying for 12 hours a day!

I do it now.

4

If I make a realistic plan, I will soon get used to studying 12 hours a day!

I want to make it a future habit.

 

Notice that the addition of ‘was’ beforeused to’ slightly changed the meaning of the sentence 2. Using ‘was’ gave more emphasis on the habit, than the second sentence without ‘was’. It is similar to saying that you couldn’t come out of the habit even if you had wanted to. Some more examples

1.       I was used to eating junk food vs I used to eat junk food.

2.       They were used to playing football in that small ground vs They used to play football in that small ground.

To make the difference clearer, let us try to add something else to sentence 1 above.

§  I was used to eating junk food, though I had a cook at home.

§  I used to eat junk food because I dint know how to cook!

Used to vs had

Consider the following sentences –

I had three close friends.

I used to have three close friends.

Both sentences are in the past. But the second sentence makes you feel more nostalgic and gives the idea of having those close friends over a period of time. Just using ‘had’ is like stating a fact with no particular emphasis or emotions.

Think of the same logic for the below example –

I had a big house and a beautiful backyard. vs I used to have a big house and a beautiful backyard.

Do you have a sentence with ‘used to’ that we haven’t covered? Let us know!

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