English "used to" and "be used to"


The phrases "used to" and "be used to" are commonly heard in English. For example: "I used to go fishing every day." OR "I am used to mild winters in the South." This module looks at when and how to use these phrases to sound more fluent.

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We use the expression “used to” to signify something we regularly or repeatedly did in the past, but are not doing anymore. When using “used to”, the verb that follows is in the infinitive. The past-tense verb “used to” stays the same for every pronoun (I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they)

She used to ride her bike to work when she lived in the city. ( This happened regularly, but is no longer the case.)
He used to eat meat, but then he became a vegetarian. (He ate meat in the past regularly, but no longer eats meat.)
My dad used to bring me presents when he came home from business trips. (He brought presents regularly, but not anymore.)
They used to serve alcohol. (They served alcohol in the past, but don’t serve alcohol anymore.)

“Used to” in the Negative

There are different ways to use “use to” in the negative. It is not grammatically correct to say “I didn’t used to…”, but it is possible that some people use this informally or colloquially. Strictly grammatically it is incorrect, but it became colloquially accepted because it is difficult to hear the difference when speaking. Another way of negating “used to” is to use the word “never”.



When asking a question about what someone “used to”, we use “did”. “Used to” changes to the present tense.

Did you use to live downtown?  – No, I never used to live downtown/ No, I never lived downtown.
Did she use to give students that much homework? -Yes, she always used to give that much homework. No, she never used to give…
Did they use to go here? – No, they never used to go there. No, they did not use to go there.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.