Would / Used to — Past Habits

Report past behavior vs. past habits

beach
 

 

Would versus Used (to)

WOULD – FORMER ROUTINE

Would and used (to) have very similar meanings and can often be used in the same situations.  Would expresses that an activity was routine, typical behavior, frequently repeated.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMP / ADJUNCT
NP MODAL V PLAIN FORM VERB

We

would

go to the beach after school.

We

would

put on our swimsuits.

We

would  

head  for the waves.

The guys

would

smoke and act "cool".

(you) →

Would you

smoke too? 

USED (TO) – FORMER HABIT

Use (to) (used in the past tense) expresses that an activity was a past habit; it occurred at an earlier stage of life but not now. It focuses on the habit, not duration or frequency.

SUBJECT PREDICATE COMP / ADJUNCT
NP PAST-PART. V INFIN CLS

We

used

to go to the beach after school.

We

used

to put on our swimsuits. 

We

used

to head for the waves.

The guys

used

to smoke and act "cool".

(you) →  

Did you use¹

to smoke

 

head (v.) – go in the direction

waves (n.) – rolling action of water onto the beach; also used for sound or hair

¹Remove the final -d when using did.

Related page:  Used / Be used to   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Habit

Would vs. Used

 

 

 

Differences Between Would and Used

WOULD

Would expresses that an activity was frequently repeated; therefore, it cannot refer to past states, except when related to the occurrence of another activity (time-relative activity).

PAST STATES OF POSSESSION, MIND, OR BEING

*She would have an amazing tan. (always had)

*She would think it was all right to sit in the sun all day. (always thought)

*She would be the most popular girl on the beach.  (was always)

She would bite her finger nails / smoke / take drugs.

TIME-RELATED ACTIVITY

She would have an amazing tan by the time summer ended. 

She would think she was very cool whether or not anyone else did.

She would be the most popular girl on the beach when she wore her bikini.  (after, before, while)

She would bite her finger nails whenever she was nervous.   

USED

Used can refer to past states: being, possession, mind, and major, unbreakable habits (usually bad) etc.

PAST STATES OF POSSESSION, MIND, OR BEING

She used to have an amazing tan.  (possession)

She used to think she was very cool. (state of being)

She used to be the most popular girl on the beach.

She used to bite her finger nails / smoke / take drugs.  (major habit, doesn't do it now, earlier stage of life) 

TIME-RELATED ACTIVITY

She used to have an amazing tan by the time summer ended. 

She used to think she was very cool whether or not anyone else did.

She used to be the most popular girl on the beach when she wore her bikini.

She used to bite her finger nails whenever she was nervous. 

 

*not used
Related page Static Verbs. Also so time-relative clauses After/ Before/ When

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would / Used

Word Order

 

 

 

AUXILIARY SUBJECT NOUN VERB INFINITIVE COMPLEMENT ADVERBIAL PHRASE AUX-SUBJ
STATEMENT          
 

Joe

used

to call

every morning.

 

 

He

would call

 

every morning.

 

QUESTION          

Did 

Joe

use 

to call

every morning?

 

Would 

he

 

 

every morning?

 

*TAG QUESTION          
 

Joe

used

to call

every morning,

didn't he? 

 

He

would call

 

every morning,

wouldn't he?

NEGATIVE          
 

Joe

didn't use

to call

every morning.

 

 

He

would n't call

 

every morning.

 

†EMPHASIS          
 

Joe

did  call

 

every morning.

 

 

He

would

 

every morning.

 

ADV/ FREQUENCY          

 

Joe

always used

to call.

 

 

 

He

rarely would / would  rarely call

 

 

 

Neither would nor used to uses a marker for subject verb agreement: He/She/I/We/You/They used to live...
*A tag question can also occur with a negative main sentence and a positive final question:
He wouldn't call very often, would he?   Related page: And so / too   

†Use emphasis word order when contradicting or stating that the opposite is true: "I think he didn't use to call every morning."   "No, he did call every morning."  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*In the past, people used to call a person on his or her birthday.

 

*Last year, I used to study very hard.  (the adverb is awkward)

*I used to live  in San Diego for five years. (including an adverb is awkward)

*I used to go  to the gym several times. (including an adverb is awkward)

*Did you used to live in Los Angeles?  (word form error with past auxiliary)

SOLUTION

In the past, people would call a person on his/ her/ their birthday.
Use would for a custom. Use used to for a discontinued habit.
 

I used to study very hard.  (Remove the adverb.)

Last year, I studied  very hard. (Change the verb to past tense when using an adverb for time.)

When I was in college, I used to study very hard. (Use a time-relative clause to refer to an earlier stage of life)

I lived in San Diego for five years.   (Use past tense with a quantity of time.)
I used to live in San Diego.   (Used to is not used with a quantity of time.)
 

I went to the gym several times.   (Use past tense.)
I often used to go to the gym.  (Use an adverb of frequency instead.)
 

Did you use to live in Los Angeles? (Remove the final -d when using did.)
 

 

*not used

Related page:  Used to / Be used to   

  Pop-Q "Use (to)"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional Grammar and Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION
WOULD WOULD

In traditional description, would is a modal that expresses an action that was repeated. Unlike most modals, it does not occur with static verbs (stative) verbs.  [modal + base verb form]

Would expresses an action that was repeated regularly in the past. (Azar 10-7)

In linguistic description, would is a modal. However, unlike other modals it expresses aspect (frequentative) more than modality. Would takes a plain-form nonfinite clause  as its complement: would   modal + nonfinite clause (plain form verb)
We would go to the beach.
We would take a nap after lunch.
 

would go diagram used to go
USED TO USED (TO)

Traditional descriptions,call this an expression or phrase. Some grammarians include it as a modal phrase.
used to / *use to
used to — verbal expression + base verb
used — verbal expression + infinitive

used to  (not *use to)
"a phrase meaning 'formerly'" (Garner 836)

Used to expresses a situation that existed in the pas, but it no longer exists. (Azar 10-7, 10-10)

Used (to) is marginally used as an auxiliary, and mostly used as a lexical verb. It has an infinitival nonfinite clause as its complement. "Morphologically, it is highly defective: it has no present  tense, no gerund-participle, and no past participle. The plain form is found only in construction with auxiliary do." (Huddleston 3 2.5.9)

used (to)  (limited to past tense) verb + nonfinite clause (infinitival) (Swan 604)
We used to go to the beach.
We used to take a nap after lunch.

  used to go

Grammatical Functions: Subject – (Subj) the agent of the action; Predicate/Predicator – (Pred) the action or change in state; Complement – Comp  –  an element required to complete the subject and predicate; Adjunct – an element not required by the verb, a modifying word, phrase, clause; Supplement – a comment in the form of a word, phrase or clause that is loosely related to the central idea of the sentence.

Lexical Categories "Parts of Speech": N – noun / pronoun; NP – noun phrase; V – verb; VP – verb phrase; Adj – adjective; AdjP – adjective phrase; Adv – adverb; AdvP – adverb phrase; P – preposition; PP – prepositional phrase; Det – determiners –  noun markers (e.g., articles, quantifiers, demonstratives, possessives); Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator; Interj – interjection; INF – infiniitve: GER – gerund; Nonfinite: an infinitive or gerund clause

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Practice

Dish washing Days

Dish washing in the 1950s
 

 

Read the Paragraph

In the 1950s, women (wash) dishes in the kitchen sink. A woman (wash) the dishes immediately after everyone finished a meal. Her husband (rarely–wash) dishes because it was not considered to be his job. A wife (often–do) the dishes by hand.  She (do) the dishes three times a day. I remember that my mother (have) a special towel just for dishes not for hands.

She (get) angry if we dried our hands with it. She (be) a very strict mother. Did your mother (have) the same rule? She would use a separate towel for dishes, (use) she? My grandmother (do) the dishes for thirty years.  Then she bought a dishwasher. Last year, she (use) a dishwasher for the first time and will never go back to hand-washing the dishes!

do the dishes (expression) – wash the dishes

strict (adj.) – imposing rules for behavior

 

 

 

 

Select the verb forms for past and past habits.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-12" button.

 

1.

2.


meal (n.) – breakfast, lunch or dinner

3.


4.

5.
 

do dishes (expression) – wash dishes  See make / do 

6.


7.


8.


  strict (adj.) – imposing rules for behavior

9.

10.

11.

12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

A Toon Fan

anime character
 

 

Read for Errors

When we were young, I use to love watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.  We would watched "The Road Runner", "Scooby-Doo", and Disney cartoons.  Then, as we grew older we would like "The Simpsons" every afternoon.  We used to imitate the voices of Bart and Homer Simpson all the time. Our mom would getting angry at us for acting stupid.

Later, we became Anime fans.  We used to trade copies of different films.  Sometimes, we would had Anime parties and dress up as our favorite characters.

Now, we have kids of our own, and they ask us, "Did you used to watch this when you were young?"

Anime (n.) — a style of Japanese animated cartoons, with big-eyed characters, colorful scenes, and action-filled plots (stories)

Disney (n.) — cartoons made in the Walt Disney studios such as "Snow White", "Aladdin", "The Little Mermaid", etc.

imitate (v.) — act like someone or something in voice, action or appearance

trade (v.) — exchange, borrow

 

 

 

 

 

Decide if the use of "would" or "used to" is correct.

  1. Select "correct" or "incorrect".
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 13-20" button.

 

13.
When we were young, I use to love watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.

   

14.
We would watched "The Road Runner", "Scooby-Doo", and Disney cartoons.

   

15.
Then, as we grew older we would like "The Simpsons" every afternoon.

   

16.
We used to imitate the voices of Bart and Homer Simpson all the time.

   

17.
Our mom would getting angry at us for acting stupid.

   

18.
Later, we became Anime fans.  We were used to trading copies of different films. 

   



Used to/ Be Used to
19.
Sometimes, we would had Anime parties and dress up as our favorite characters.

   

20.
Now, we have kids of our own, and they ask us, "Did you used to watch this when you were young?"

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Sending Cards

A birthday card
 

 

Read for Errors

Before the Internet, we used to sent greeting cards. These including cards for birthdays, graduations, weddings, illness, thank-yous, and sympathy (for illness or death). Now, the Internet allows us to send our thoughts and wishes through email, tweets, social network postings, and electronic greeting cards. 

For many people, this is an acceptable way to save time, money, and paper, and still express our caring. For others, it is not proper.  For example, my cousin had a birthday last week, so I post my best wishes on Facebook.  He happy to receive my greetings.  In contrast, my grandmother did not enjoyed receiving birthday greetings over the Internet. She told me to call her if I didn't had the money to send her a card. I think she angry! When I was little, she would always sent me a card on every birthday.  I used to looking forward to receiving her cards.  So, I will continue the card-sending tradition with her.

In addition to the age of the receiver, the occasion makes a difference.  While most of you wouldn't mind a birthday greeting online, you probably would mind a condolence online.  Last month, I had to buy the first greeting card of the year.  It was for a friend whose father died. I didn't want to post a public message offering sympathy. Instead, I sent a card with some words of sympathy.  In the past, we used to visit this friend and bring food, but that is changing now too.

Offering sympathy is also better in person. Yesterday, I called a friend who was sick.  I think he appreciated hearing my voice more than anything I could buy or write. In the past, we were used to talk almost everyday.

As  the Internet changes our interactions, we have to re-think the customs that we used to.  In some cases, we can express our love and caring electronically, but in other cases we need to express it on paper or in person.

condolence (n.) — sympathy for someone who has had something bad happen to them, especially when someone has died.

interactions (n.) — the ways we communicate and behave with others

sympathy (n.) — the feeling of being sorry for someone who is in a bad situation

would mind (v.) — object to, be bothersome; as in Would you mind if I sat here?

 

 

 

Edit for Errors

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 21-30" button.

 

21.
Before the Internet, we used to sent greeting cards. These including cards for birthdays, graduations, weddings, illness, thank yous, and sympathy (for illness or death).


22.
Now, the Internet allows us to send our thoughts and wishes through email, tweets, social network postings, and electronic greeting cards. 


23.
For many people, this is an acceptable way to save time, money, and paper, and still express our caring. For others, it is not proper.


24.
For example, my cousin had a birthday last week, so I post my best wishes on Facebook.  He happy to receive my greetings.


25.
In contrast, my grandmother did not enjoyed receiving birthday greetings over the Internet. She told me to call her if I didn't have the money to send her a card. I think she angry!


26.
When I was little, she would always sent me a card on my birthday. I used to looking forward to receiving her cards. So, I will continue the card-sending tradition with her.


27.
In addition to the age of the receiver, the occasion makes a difference.  While most of you wouldn't mind a birthday greeting online, you probably would mind a condolence online.


28.
Last month, I had to buy the first greeting card of the year.  It was for a friend whose father died. I didn't want to post a public message offering sympathy. Instead, I sent a card with some words of sympathy.  In the past, we used to visit this friend and bring food, but that is changing now too.


29.
Offering sympathy is also better in person. Yesterday, I called a friend who was sick.  I think he appreciated hearing my voice more than anything I could buy or write. In the past, we were used to talk almost every day.


30.
As the Internet changes our interaction, we have to re-think the customs that we used to.  In some cases, we can express our love and caring electronically, but in other cases we need to express it on paper or in person.


 

Related page Used to / Be used to