Grammar - Intermediate


Used To

"Used to" in English fulfills the function that, in many languages, is covered by a whole tense! We use "used to" to express something which happened regularly in the past but doesn't happen anymore. A past routine, a past habit.

I used to drink three whiskeys a day ten years ago, but then I stopped.
She used to be a teacher, but now works as a lawyer.

Questions

The question form uses "use to":

Did you use to live in this house, Tony?
How many cigarettes did you use to smoke before you gave up?

Negatives

I didn't use to like eating salad, but I love it now.
She didn't use to study hard and so she failed all her exams every year.

Pronunciation

The past of the verb "use" is "used" which is spelt the same as "used to" but the pronunciation is very different. The past of "use" is pronounced with a /z/ sound - while "used to" is pronounced with an /s/ sound.

Phonetically:

He used a computer. /u:zd/
He used to work here. /u:st/

Past Simple or 'Used To'?

We can also use past simple to talk about past habits or routines:

I lived in that house for ten years.
She was a librarian for a year before quitting.

Just as we can use "used to":

I used to live in that house for ten years.
She used to be a librarian.

The difference is that we can't use "used to" for something that happened once.

I went to Lithuania in 1999.
NOT I used to go to Lithuania in 1999.

Would or 'Used To'?

We can also use "would" in a similar way to "used to".

Every day as a child, she would pedal that old bike to school.
Even when he was really young, he would play that piano for hours every day.

But we don't use "would" for state verbs:

I used to have a teddy bear when I was young.
NOT I would have a teddy bear when I was young.


Gerund Or Infinitive

Here is a brief summary of when we use the infinitive and the gerund in English.

Also, check out our page on simple verb patterns.

Gerund Infinitive
After certain verbs
(e.g. enjoy, hate)

As the subject of a sentence

After prepositions
After certain verbs
(e.g. want, decide)

After adjectives

GERUND

After certain verbs

She always enjoys seeing a good thriller at the cinema.
I hated going to school when I was young.

As the subject of a sentence

Watching TV every day isn't healthy for children.
Staying in bed late is one of the pleasures of Sundays.

After prepositions

You shouldn't eat too much before going to bed.
He frightened us by jumping out of the cupboard.
I was interested in seeing your stamp collection.

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INFINITIVE

After certain verbs

I want to go to Mexico for a year after university.
I hope to find a job near Acapulco.
I have decided to become an English teacher.

After adjectives

He was pleased to see we had finished our work.
The police were happy to answer the journalists' questions.
It is often hard for children to make new friends.

Some verbs can be followed by the infinitive and the gerund. but with a different meaning. For more on this, go to the second part of Infinitive or Gerund.

She stopped smoking two years ago.
He stopped to smoke and we talked for a while.


Needn't

We use needn't in the same way as we use don't have to. It means something is not necessary.

You needn't come with us. You can stay at home if you want.
I needn't bring my umbrella, it will be a lovely day.

We use needn't have for something that wasn't necessary in the past:

I needn't have come to school today! There is a teachers' strike!!
The car wasn't dirty - you needn't have washed it!

Needn't have, as in the two sentences above, tells us something in the past that wasn't necessary in the past, but we did it. We can use "didn't need to" to say what wasn't necessary in the past that we knew before wasn't necessary.

It was Sunday yesterday and I wasn't working so I didn't need to get up early.

Compare these two situations:

I bought 2kg of sugar yesterday but my wife tells me now that we have a lot of sugar already so I needn't have bought the new bag. It was my mistake because I didn't check first.

I bought 2kg of sugar yesterday. I knew we had some sugar and that I didn't need to buy more but this new bag was on special offer at the supermarket so I bought it anyway.

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