Used to

We use used to with two different purposes: to talk about past habits or routines and to talk about past states.

Habit is something we do often. For example, eating after 9 pm. is a habit, taking a nap in the afternoons is a habit. Routine is a regular,usual way of doing something. We use used to when we talk about our habits or routines in the past.

I believe you all have some habits or routines, for example, do you drink tea or coffee in the mornings? Do you walk to work or take the bus? Do you pick out the mushrooms in your pizza? These are the habits you have now.

But there are also some habits or routines you had in the past and you don't have them anymore. For the habits or routines you had in the past you use the expression used to.

For example now I have a new habit in my life, I get up, go to the kitchen and make myself a cup of green tea. I love it. But do you know that I didn't like green tea in the past? I didn't like green tea and I used to drink coffee in the mornings.

We also use used to for past states that are no longer true.

A state is the condition or situation of someone or something at a particular time. 

For example, I lived in a small town when I was younger but now the situation changed and I don't live in a small town anymore. I used to live in a small town, but now I live in a big city.

Let's see the different uses of used to with some examples.

When to Use Used to

1. For past habits or routines

We use used to for our habits or routines in the past, something we did regularly but we don’t do it now.

  • When I was a child, I used to watch the Ninja Turtles show on TV after school. (I don’t watch the Ninja Turtles anymore.)
  • I used to drink a lot of coke when I was young, but I don’t drink it anymore, I prefer healthy drinks like water or soda.
  • I used to go swimming in the pool twice a week when I was in high school, I don’t go swimming now. 
  • I used to bite my nails whenever I was stressed, then I started using anti-biting nailpolish. I don’t bite my nails anymore.
  • She used to sleep at around 3 a.m. She doesn’t sleep late now. She goes to bed at 11 p.m.
  • He used to buy me flowers everytime we met, he doesn’t do that anymore!
  • He used to call me every night before sleep, he doesn’t do that anymore!

2.For past states

We use used to to talk about something that was true in the past but not in the present. Something changed now.

  • I used to have a red bike when I was a child. (I don’t have the bike now, I sold it.)
  • I used to be fat but I lost twenty kgs in two years. ( I am not fat anymore, I am fit now.)
  • I used to hate cheese but now I love it.
  • They used to live in Sri Lanka, but they moved to the USA three years ago. (They don’t live in Sri Lanka anymore.)
  • He used to work at Starbucks as a barista, now he works in a photo studio and takes photos. (He doesn’t work in Starbucks now.)


How to Use Used to

Used to is a modal verb and we need to use it with a main verb in the sentence. With modal verbs, we simply use the base form of the main verb after the modal verb. We do not change the main verb by adding something to the end of the verb. 

For example, 

  • I can play the piano. (modal verb:can, main verb:play)
  • You should sleep early. (modal verb:should, main verb:sleep)
  • She used to smoke 6 cigarettes a day. (modal verb: used to, main verb:smoke)

Positive Sentences (+)

Used to is also a modal verb and after used to in the positive sentence, we use the base form of the main verb.

Subject + used to + base of of the verb

I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they + didn't use to + read the news.

used to wear big glasses when I was 11.

You used to have very long hair.

She used to eat fast food a lot.

Let's see some more examples:

  • used to be afraid of dogs.
  • You used to call me on my cell phone.   
  • It used to rain a lot here in this season.                                                            
  • He used to call me 'my daisy'.
  • She used to spend a lot of money.
  • We used to chat for hours on the phone.
  • You used to have a van.
  • They used to play with mud for hours when they were very little.

Negative Sentences (-)

The negative of used to is didn’t use to.
We use the base form of the verb after didn’t use to in negative sentences.

Subject + didn’t use to +  base form of the verb

I/you/he/she/it/ we/you/they + didn't use to + exercise.

You didn't use to wear make up when you were at the university.

He didn't use to eat seafood.

We didn't use to sleep early at the weekend.

Let's see some more examples:

  • She didn't use to drink coke.
  • They didn't use to go to the farmers market for grocery shopping.
  • I didn’t use to be a football fan but now I never miss a game.
  • We didn’t use to meet a lot. She moved to my city 2 months ago and now I meet her once a week.


In the negative form, it is NOT I didn’t used to. It is I didn’t use to, without d.

Questions (?)

Yes/No Questions 

In the question form, we use did at the beginning of the sentence and then add the rest of the sentence. In questions as in the negative sentences, it is use to, not used to.

Did + subject + use to + base form of the verb ?

Did you use to play football when you were young?

Did she use to live in New York?

Did they use to visit you at the weekends?

Let's see some more examples:

  • Did you use to play hide and seek as a child?
  • Did you use to wear your mom’s lipstick and dance in front of the mirror when you were a child?
  • Did he use to buy you presents each Valentines’ Day?

Wh- Questions

When we expect an answer other then Yes or No, we ask questions with the question words what, who, why,etc. To form questions with the question words and used to, we use the question words at bthe beginning of the sentence and then add the rest.

  • What did you use to do after school?
  • What did you use to dream of as a child?
  • Where did you use to work?
  • Who did she use to live with in San Francisco?

Ready to Practice?

Click here to try an exercise about used to.

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