Sunday, December 30, 2012

Used to, will and would

A look at how we use used to in its various forms and when we can use would instead of used to.

Used to

Students can sometimes get confused between:
  • I used to do something
  • I am used to doing something
  • I am getting used to doing something

First a bit of history

These two constructions originally came from the verb use, which had an old meaning of to be in the habit or custom of. The related Latin noun usus, as well as meaning use, could also mean custom. And this also seems to be where we got usual and usually from.
In this old meaning, the verb use was used in other tenses as well as past simple, as this entry (1667) from the diary of Samuel Pepys shows (see Note 1 below):
I did this night give the waterman who uses to carry me 10s. at his request, for the painting of his new boat, on which shall be my arms.
Which in modern language might go something like:
Tonight I gave the boatman who usually carries me the fifty pence he requested for painting his new boat, which will include my coat of arms.
Here are a couple of other examples:
The English then useing to let grow on their upperlip large Moustachio's (see Note 2 below)
John Milton,The History of Britain, 1670
= The English at that time being in the custom of growing large moustaches on their upper lips.
He does not use to be the last on these occasions.
George Lillo, London Merchant, 1731
= He's not usually the last on these occasions.

Coming back up to date

But nowadays, this meaning of the verb use is used in only two ways:
  • Past simple + to-infinitive to talk about habits, repeated actions, situations and states in the past which are no longer true.
    • I used to smoke, but I don't now. (+)
    • She didn't use to have red hair, did she? (-)
    • Where did you use to live before you came here? (?)
  • Past participle used as an adjective after the verbs be and get, and followed by the preposition to.
    • At that time I wasn't used to getting up so early.
    • But I had to get used to it because of my job.
    • Getting used to it wasn't particularly easy.
    • But gradually I got used to it.
    • In fact, you could probably say I'm used to it now.
Where in the past they used other forms of use we tend nowadays to use usually.

Main points to note.

  • used to do something
    • here used is a past simple verb form, so drops the final d in negatives and questions, as with other verbs:
      I used to ... (+)
      I didn't use to ... (-)
      Did you use to ...?
      (?)
    • the word to here is part of the following infinitive
  • be / get used to something
    • here used is an adjective, so never changes
    • the word to here is a preposition, and is always followed by a noun phrase, pronoun or gerund (-ing form)
    • be used to describes the state of being accustomed to or familiar with something.
    • get used to describes the process of becoming accustomed to or familiar with something
Sound - in both constructions, d is immediately followed by t, and this can often sound like one t sound - I use'to do something, I'm use'to something. This has led to some confusion about spelling. But just remember the rules above.

Practice

Exercise 1Complete the second sentences with suitable forms of used to, be used to, get used to or usually to mean more or less the same as the first ones. Use the number of words given in brackets.
1. Before coming here, Maria lived in a small village in the country.
Before coming here, Maria in a small village in the country. (3)
2. It took her some time to adapt to living in a big city.
It took her some time to in a big city. (4)
3. In her village for example, they weren't accustomed to so much traffic as in the city.
In her village for example, they so much traffic as in the city. (3)
4. And she found adapting to the pace of life in the city quite difficult at first.
And she found the pace of life in the city quite difficult at first. (3)
5. In the beginning she didn't go out much in the evenings.
In the beginning she much in the evenings. (5)
6. But nowadays she is in the habit of going out three or four evenings a week.
But nowadays she three or four evenings a week. )(3)
7. I asked her: Didn't you get bored in the village?
I asked her: Didn't in the village? (5)
8. But she replied: It wasn't really a problem for me, I suppose.
But she replied: I , I suppose. (4)
9. But now she has adapted to the pace of city life.
But now she the pace of city life. (4)
10. And says: City life is so normal for me now, I don't think I could ever go back.
And says: I'm so now, I don't think I could ever go back. (4)

Using will and would to talk about habits and typical behaviour.

Both will and would are used to emphasise habits and behaviour that are thought to be characteristic of somebody. Would is being used here as the past of will. We can also use simple tenses (or used to for the past) with little difference in meaning, except for a loss of emphasis.
  • He'll get hot and bothered about the smallest thing. (OR He gets ... )
    He'd get hot and bothered about the smallest thing. (OR He got / used to get ... )
  • If there's a problem, she'll usually ask for help. (OR she usually asks ... )
    If there was a problem, she'd usually ask for help. (OR she asked / used to ask ... )
Sometimes we use stressed will and would to show our disapproval of someone's habits or characteristic behaviour.
  • He will keep turning up late for work.
  • If you will criticise everything he says, what do you expect?
  • He would go on all the time about how clever he was.
  • She would say that, wouldn't she?
In the last example, we are talking about a single past action, but we think that it is typical of somebody's behaviour.

Would and used to

As we saw above, we sometimes use would instead of used to when talking about habits or repeated actions in the past.
  • She would always bring us presents. (OR She always used to bring ... )
  • Every day, he would take the number 27 bus to work. (OR he used to take ... )
Note - we can't do this for past states:
  • He used to live in Liverpool. NOT He would live in Liverpool.
  • She used to have darker hair. NOT She would have darker hair.
Remember - we only use used to for states or situations which are no longer true, or for repeated or habitual actions in the past. We don't use used to or would (in this sense) for single actions in the past:

Practice

Remember that we don't use used to or would for single actions in the past (unless stressing our disapporoval). For single actions we normally use Past simple.
Exercise 2Use the verbs from the box in the correct form. Where it's possible, use would. If would is not possible but used to is, use used to. Otherwise use Past simple.
be   ·   go   ·   have   ·   laugh   ·   live   ·   make   ·   prefer   ·   prepare   ·   put   ·   visit  
We (1)  in Boston before we moved to New York. As we lived quite near my aunt, we (2)  her occasionally, and every time she (3)  something really good for us to eat. She (4)  a real flair for cooking in those days, before her illness. Once she (5)  us a huge pot of clam chowder. It (6)  the first time I'd ever had it, and I've been hooked on it ever since. From that time on, every Friday we (7)  to the market to buy some clams and some Oyster crackers to go with the soup. Crown Pilot crackers (8)  our favorite, but unfortunately the company that made them (9)  bust in 2008. In those days we (10)  clam chowder New England style - we (11)  clams, onions and potatoes in it, and nothing much else. Now we live in New York, we've got used to Manhattan clam chowder with tomatoes, but when we lived in Boston we (12)  at the idea of putting tomatoes in chowder.

Using used to and would in reported speech.

We don't use any backshifting with used to and would in reported speech; they stay the same:
  • Patricia: "I used to think he was rather nice."
    Patricia said that she used to think he was rather nice.
  • Matthew: "She would often write to me."
    Matthew said that she would often write to him.

Using used to and would with narrative tenses.

These expressions are often used together with narrative tenses.

Narrative tenses - a quick reminder

  • Past simple
    • Describes the main events of the story
    • Describes sequences of events
    • Is the 'standard' narrative tense. If in doubt, go for past simple.
  • Past continuous
    • Is often used to set the scene and for describing background actions
    • Describes unfinished actions, especially around a certain time
    • Describes longer actions interrupted by shorter ones
    • Is sometimes used to make the actions in a story seem more immediate, especially with the word now
  • Past perfect
    • Describes events which took place before the main events in the story
  • Past perfect continuous
    • Describes longer continuous actions which took place before the main events in the story
    • Is sometimes used to explain the condition of people or things at the time of the main events in the story.

Practice with narrative tenses

Exercise 3Put the verbs in the correct form. Where it's possible, use would. Use used to where that is possible but would isn't. Otherwise use narrative tenses.
Nowadays Nigel is a successful businessman, but it (1)  (not be) always like that. For a long time he (2)  (sell) insurance door-to-door. He (3)  (knock) on the doors of complete strangers and (4)  (try) to convince them how much they needed his product.
Then one day he (5)  (get) his big break. He (6)  (visit) a particular area of the city when he (7)  (notice) that there were a lot of empty shops in what (8)  (be) a busy street when he was a boy. He (9)  (take) a lease on one of the shops, and (10)  (set) himself up as an independent financial adviser. It (11)  (be) the eighties, the period of privatisations, and many ordinary people (12)  (buy) shares for the first time. Share ownership (13)  (be) mainly for the rich, but nowadays everybody's at it.
He soon (14)  (make) a reputation for himself. There (15)  (be) a lot of factories in this area, but in the eighties many of them (16)  (close) down. It was usual for workers to be given quite large redundancy payments and often they (17)  (come) to ask him for his advice on how to invest their money wisely. Word soon (18)  (get) round that he (19)  (be) both reliable and good value.
Then (20)  (come) the nineties, a boom time for the financial sector. Nigel started to expand his business. He worked hard and (21)  (often spend) as much as twelve hours at work.
Then one day, he (22)  (decide) that he (23)  (have) enough. He (24)  (spend) so much time at work that he (25)  (hardly see) his family in the previous year or so. From then on he would take it easy and let his managers do the work.
Note - the would in the last sentence is an example of Future in the past. You can read more about that and do some exercises at my post linked to below.

Describing habit, customs and routines

There are three nouns with very similar meanings - habit, custom and routine - they also have related adjectives - habitual, customary and routine - and adverbs - habitually, customarily and routinely. Try this exercise to practise the diferences. If you need help, look at the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary links below.
Exercise 4Use the words in the box to fill the gaps. Click and Drop - Click on a word in the box and then click on an appropriate gap. If you change your mind, just repeat the process.
custom   ·   customarily   ·   customary   ·   habit   ·   habitual   ·   habitually   ·   routine   ·   routinely  
1. She went for a medical check-up.
2. We have a of welcoming new students with a party.
3. He's a liar. He's incapable of telling the truth.
4. Staff are searched when they leave work.
5. It is to thank people when they do something for you.
6. This is all part of our daily .
7. She's late for her appointments.
8. These sort of products are aimed at teenagers.
9. He has a of speaking rather quietly.

Other ways of talking about habits

There are several other ways we can talk about habits. Notice that wont is rather old-fashioned, but you might come across it in books, etc.
Exercise 5Use the words in the box to fill the gaps. Click and Drop - Click on a word in the box and then click on an appropriate gap. If you change your mind, just repeat the process.
got   ·   have   ·   having   ·   of   ·   tendency   ·   to   ·   used   ·   usually  
1. I have a cup of coffee in the morning.
2. I'm to having a cup of coffee in the morning.
3. I've used to having a cup of coffee in the morning.
4. I'm accustomed to a cup of coffee in the morning.
5. I'm in the habit having a cup of coffee in the morning.
6. I tend to a cup of coffee in the morning.
7. I have a to feel sleepy if I don't have a cup of coffee in the morning.
8. I'm wont have a cup of coffee in the morning.

Grammatical PS - technically, the verb used to is a semi-modal

Although nowadays we almost always use used to the same way as any other verb in past simple, that's to say, with did in negatives and questions, a modal form also exists, which you might come across when reading:
  • Negative - He used not to smoke (also use(d)n't)
    = He didn't use to smoke (more usual)
  • Question - Used your parents allow you to stay out late?
    = Did your parents use to allow you to stay out late? (more usual)
These forms are pretty rare these days and are seen as rather formal, but here are a couple of examples from Agatha Christie:
You usen't to be like that
The Mistress usedn't to sleep well at night.
Poirot loses a client
And one from Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books:
He used not to sweat like that.

Other semi-modals

Other semi-modals, where we can use normal constructions or modal constructions, include need and dare (in negatives in British English). Normal constructions are more common.
  • She doesn't need to do it if she doesn't want to. (normal construction)
    She needn't do it if she doesn't want to. (modal construction)
  • Do we really need to go now? (normal construction)
    Need we really go now? (modal construction))
  • He doesn't dare tell her the truth. (normal construction)
    He daren't tell her the truth. (modal construction)

Some song extracts

Chris Daughtry - Used to

Used to + infinitive and would

We used to have this figured out;
We used to breathe without a doubt.
When nights were clear, you were the first star that I'd see.
We used to have this under control.
We never thought.
We used to know.
At least there's you, and at least there's me.
Can we get this back?
Can we get this back to how it used to be?

Madonna - This used to be my playground

Used to + infinitive

This used to be my playground (used to be)
This used to be my childhood dream
This used to be the place I ran to
Whenever I was in need
Of a friend

Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone

Used to + infinitive and get used to something

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it

Depeche Mode - A Pain That I'm Used To

Be used to something

All this running around, well it's getting me down
Just give me a pain that I'm used to
I don't need to believe all the dreams you conceive
You just need to achieve something that rings true

Selena - I'm getting used to you

Get used to somebody or doing something

I'm getting used to you
Ooh and I'm loving every single thing about you
I'm getting used to you
And I could never get used to living without you
Ain't no living without loving you

Dusty Springfield - Son of a Preacher Man

Using would to talk about people's habitual actions

Billy-Ray was a preacher's son
And when his daddy would visit he'd come along
When they gathered round and started talkin'
That's when Billy would take me walkin'
A-through the backyard we'd go walkin'
Then he'd look into my eyes
Lord knows to my surprise

Johnny Cash - A girl named Sue

Using would to talk about what often happened, what typically happened.

Well, he must've thought that it's quite a joke
And it got a lot of laughs from a' lots of folks,
It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
Some gal'd giggle and I'd get red
And some guy'd laugh and I'd bust his head,
I tell ya, life ain't easy for a boy named 'Sue.'

Coldplay - Viva la vida

Both used to + infinitive and would

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

Notes

Note 1 - Samuel Pepys Diary

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) was a civil servant working at the Admiralty office (the government department converned with naval affairs). From 1660 until 1669 he kept a diar, whichb has become one of the most famopus diaries in the English language. In it he not only wrote about his private life, but about the great affairs of politics and it is one of the most important accounts of some of the great events of the time, inclusing the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.

Note 2 - Milton and Moustachio's

This use of the apostrophe in the expression of Milton's - large Moustachio's - is typical of an early use of apostrophes: to show that a foreign word was being used in the plural. As the singular forms of some foreign words ended in s, this was not always clear. This use of the apostrophe was especially used in connection with foreign foods, and so became known as the Greengocer's apostrophe. Nowadays it is widely used in markets for all sorts of foods, with foreign names or not, much to the annoyance of the apostrophe abuse hunters (people who seem to get enjoyment from finding other people's mistakes).
This use is not technically correct, and you definitely shouldn't do it, but it is hardly the serious crime some people like to think it is.

Answers

Related posts

Links

Songs - Google searches - lyrics, YouTube etc

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

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