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Grammar Reference

Meaning and use of used to and be/get used to

We use used to + the infinitive to talk about an action that happened regularly in the past but doesn’t happen now. Used to is different to the past simple because it emphasises that the action was repeated many times.

I used to drive to work every day but now I cycle. It’s better for the environment.

We also use used to + the infinitive for past situations. It emphasises that the situations are no longer true.

There used to be lots of old forests here, but sadly they’ve all been cut down.

I never used to get any exercise when I drove to work, so cycling’s great.

It’s easy to confuse used to + the infinitive with be/get used to but the meanings are very different.

You use be used to to say that something isn’t new, unusual or difficult for you. You have experienced it many times. You use get used to to say that you are gradually finding something less unusual or difficult. Both be used to and get used to can be followed by a noun/pronoun or the -ing form of the verb. They are never followed by the infinitive.

Cycling was hard work at first, but I’m used to it now and I really enjoy it.

I’m used to getting up a bit earlier so that I get to work on time.

We can use be/get used to with present, past and future tenses.

‘Why did you find it so hard at first?’

‘Well, because I wasn’t used to cycling then.’

‘How long did it take you to get used to cycling?’

‘Oh, I got used to it after a couple of weeks. You should try it too. You’ll get used to it in no time.’


Form of used to + infinitive

Positive

Subject + used to + infinitive

I used to be stuck in traffic jams day after day.

NOT: I am used to be stuck in traffic jams day after day.

Negative

Subject + didn’t use to + infinitive. We can also use never used to + infinitive. In more formal or written English, used not to + infinitive is sometimes used.

I didn’t use to get any exercise. / I never used to get any exercise. / I used not to get any exercise.

Questions and short answers

Did + subject + use to + infinitive

‘Did it use to take you a long time to get to work?’

‘Yes, it did.’ / ‘Yes, it used to.’

Form of be/get used to

Positive

Subject + be/get used to + noun/pronoun or + -ing. 

I’m used to getting wet on the way to work when it rains!

My legs have got used to the exercise at last. 

Negative

Subject + not be/not get used to + noun/pronoun or + -ing.

My colleagues were amused because they weren’t used to seeing me arrive on a bike.

If you don’t try, you won’t get used to new ways of doing things.

Questions and short answers

Be + subject + used to + noun/pronoun or + -ing?

And

Auxiliary verb + subject + get used to + noun/pronoun or + -ing?

‘Are your colleagues used to you cycling to work now?’ ‘Yes, they are.’

‘Did they get used to it quickly?’  ‘Yes, they did.’


Take note: used to

Used to is about the past so there is no present or future form. For the present we say

I usually cycle to work.

NOT: I use to cycle to work.


Take note: didn’t use to and did you use to

In the negative didn’t use to and the question did you use to, notice that there is no d on use.  This is correct English, although people sometimes put a d on the end.


Pronunciation

Used is pronounced in the same way in used to and be/get used to. It has a soft /s/ sound and we don’t pronounce the letter d at the end of used. We use the weak form of to /tə/ except in the short answer Yes, I used to, where it is pronounced as /tu:/.