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Used vs. Be used to

Compare a former habit vs. accustoming to a new habit

Camping in a tent


Former Habit vs. Accustomed Activity


Used (to) expresses that an activity was a past habit; it was occurring at an earlier stage of life but not now. It focuses on the past habit, not duration or frequency. (used + infinitive) It is a lexical verb limited to past tense.


We used

to go camping every spring. 

We used

to wake up early to go fishing. 

My parents used

to tell stories before bedtime. 


Used to expresses something that you are accustomed to; are familiar with and accept as normal.  Also, in Amer. Engl  get used to  (become accustomed gradually). The verbal expression is followed by a gerund.


We are used to

going camping every spring. 

We got used to

waking up early to go fishing. 

We were used to

telling stories before bedtime. 



used (to) – is a verb that is followed by a specified preposition "to". That is, it requires one preposition in particular. See Verbs with specified prepositional complements

Also see Would vs Used to–express past behavior vs. past habits.

Also see Grammar Notes below.







Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions



Error and Solution


*We are used to go camping every spring.


*We used to go there for six months.


We used to go camping every spring.
(A past activity occurring at an earlier stage of life.

We are used to going camping every spring. (It is a family custom.)

We used to go there.  (a past habit that ended)

We went there for six months. 
(Use the past tense verb form with a quantity of time.)


Solution - lightbulbPop-Q "Used to"






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Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Description



Traditional / ESL and Linguistic Descriptions


In Azar's Understanding and Using English Grammar, (be) used to is included among verb + preposition combinations, which followed by gerunds.  (Azar 14-2 "Using Gerunds as the Objects of Prepositions)

be used to doing something.
be accustomed to doing something.
be commited to doing something

In linguistic description, used to is an adjectival passive followed by an infinitival nonfinite clause (a "reduced" clause).

used to  
We are used to [warm weather/ going to the beach.]

adjectival passive + PP +  NP / nonfinite clause (infinitival)

"There are a few adjectives that are morphologically related to the past participles of verbs but whose meaning has changed so that they are no longer comparable to verbal passives with the same form and its connection with passives proper is purely historical."  bound, engaged, meant, numbered, related supposed, used (Huddleston 16 §10.1.3)

We are engaged to be married. / He was supposed to be… / He was bound to leave… / He was meant to lead…

parse - are used to would go diagram

Traditional descriptions,call this an expression or 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)

In linguistic description, the verb use has an infinitival nonfinite clause as its complement. It is marginally used as an auxiliary, and mostly used as a lexical verb.  "Morphologically, it is highly defective: it has no present  tense, no gerund-participle, and no past participle. The plain form is found only in costruction with ausiliary do." (Huddleston 3 2.5.9)
use   (limited to past tense)
We used [to go to the beach.]
We used [to take a nap after lunch.]

verb + nonfinite clause (infinitival)

(Swan 604)

parse – used to used to go

Categories:  NP –noun phrase; N – noun; VP – verb phrase; V – verb; Detdeterminer; PP – prepositional phrase; P – preposition; AdvP – adverb phrase; Adv – adverb; AdjP– adjective phrase; Adj – adjective; Subord – Subordinator;  Coord – Coordinator; Interj – Interjection

Functions: Subject:  Subject,   Predicate: Predicator (V) Complement:  elements required by the verb: object, indirect object, predicative complement  Adjuncts: (optional modifiers) Adj,  Adv


Works Cited

  • Aarts, Bas. Oxford Modern English Grammar. Oxford UP, 2011.
  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.






Family Time 

family dinner


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extended = family plus aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins