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How to use ‘used to’ and ‘would’ in English

Classroom Desk

How to use ‘used to’ and ‘would’ in English

Talking about the past in English can be challenging, especially when expressing habits or repeated actions. Two of the most common constructions for referring to these situations are "used to" and "would." Although both have similarities, they also have key differences in their usage.

Used to - Before

The expression "used to" is the most common way to talk about actions or habits we did in the past. It is used with the base form of the verb and is pronounced as if it were one word. Let's look at some examples:

For example:

  • I used to play football a lot.
  • My dad used to drive.
  • This building used to be a hospital.
  • I used to work in a factory.

It's important to note that when using "used to" in the negative, the structure is "didn't use to," and in questions, it is "Did… use to…?". For example:

  • I didn't use to eat vegetables.
  • Did you use to go to school here?

Used to - Soliya

"Used to" not only refers to general habits in the past but can also be translated as "solía/solíamos/solían" since it encompasses the idea of repetitive actions in the past. Additional examples:

For example:

  • I used to drive to work every day, now I use the metro.
  • My teachers used to tell me off for not doing my homework.
  • I used to go out every night when I was at university.
  • Would - Repeated Actions in the Past

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So when do you use 'Would?'

Although we commonly associate "would" with forming the conditional, it is also used to talk about repeated actions in the past. This construction is less common than "used to" and is generally reserved for describing specific situations. For example:

Quand j'étais enfant, je jouais avec mes jouets tous les jours.

When we were younger, we would listen to my grandfather tell stories.

My grandmother would listen to music very loud.

Here, "would" suggests the repetition of actions in the past but under specific circumstances. Unlike "used to," which covers more general habits, "would" focuses on actions that occurred under particular conditions. 

In summary, "used to" and "would" share the ability to describe repeated actions in the past but differ in their applications. "Used to" is more versatile and is used to express general habits and routine actions in the past. On the other hand, "would" is less frequent and focuses on repeated actions under specific conditions.

By understanding these differences, English speakers can communicate more precisely when talking about the past and choose the construction that best fits the context. Both "used to" and "would" provide valuable linguistic tools for effectively narrating past experiences.

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