Are you used to this by
by Guy Perring
TAKE a look at the following sentence: Computers used to be more expensive than they are now. We use used to + infinitive to describe past states or habits which are not true now. For example:
I used to smoke a pack a day, until I got
I used to drive to work, but for the sake of the environment I now take the bus.
Both the above express past habits. You should note that we can’t use used to in the present tense for present habits. So in the example above, we can’t say I now use to take the bus. Question forms such as “Used you to smoke when you were a college student?” are possible in a formal, British style. However, it is now more common to use the normal question form:
Did you use to smoke when you were a college student?
Pronunciation can cause problems since both used to and use to are pronounced identically. In the above example, it is quite common for the written form to be mistakenly spelt as in “Did you used to smoke when you were a college student?”
When adverbs are used with this structure, they can either go before or after used. Take a look at the examples below and think about when you would use:
Before I had
children, I always used to
work late at the office.
Before I had children, I used always to work late at the office.
No difference in meaning, but the second example would be used in a more formal situation and the first example is more conversational and informal.An alternative to used to is would as in the example below,
Every summer the
company would hold a staff
Every summer the company used to hold a staff party.
This is for an action that happened repeatedly in the past. In this case, would and used to are interchangeable. However, you can’t use would when referring to a past state:
Ahmad Rais used to own Timecel
Industries. (This is fine)
Ahmad Rais would own Timecel Industries. (Not possible!)
Another area of potential confusion is between the forms below:
I didn’t use to
use a PDA.
I wasn’t used to using a PDA.
In example (a), the meaning is that in the past, you didn’t use a PDA, but now you do. In example (b), you found using a PDA a new and difficult experience.This second usage refers to the process of becoming familiar with a new situation:
I’ve lived in
Malaysia for two years and I’m
used to the heat now. I love the food and am very used to eating at street stalls. I
still haven’t got used to
the driving, though!
I hope you are used to reading this column by now!
Perring is Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the
British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning
opportunities from management and communication skills training to
developing English skills. Visit it at www.britishcouncil.org.myor
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