Unit 17: The Digital Revolution
'Used to' for past habits
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In the past, we sent letters but now we email and text. It’s time to find out how to use used to to talk about past habits and situations that have changed. Have a look at the grammar explanations and do some activities to help you learn the structure.
In 6 Minute Grammar, Neil, Catherine and Rob share their pasts with you and give lots of examples of used to.
Here's a question about the programme: Which one of the presenters played a lot of video games in the past, but now likes to read?
Things used to be so different! Look at the telephone this man is using!
Listen to the audio
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Neil.
And me, Catherine. Hello.
In today's programme we're talking about things we used to do...
...in other words, things we did regularly in the past.
Yes, we'll look at the phrase used to in positive and negative sentences, and in questions.
We'll bring you some spelling and pronunciation tips...
And we'll finish of course with a quiz.
So, let's start with some example sentences from Rob. Hello Rob.
Listen carefully and answer this question: What activities did these people do regularly in the past?
Petra used to eat junk food, but now she eats salads and vegetables.
I used to play computer games, but now I read a lot.
So, Petra used to eat junk food and Rob used to play computer games. The words used to in front of an infinitive verb, like used to eat or used to play tell us that someone did an activity regularly, or several times, in the past. Now pronunciation-wise, we say used to with a short /ju/ sound, used to, not a long /ju:/ like in 'Can I use your phone please?' It's not use, it's use. Here they are together:
I used to use a desktop computer, but now I've got a tablet.
Thanks Rob. And we can see from that example that we often use used to with a verb when the present situation is different to the past - so in the past Rob had a desktop, but now he's got a tablet.
Now, used to with an infinitive means the activity happened regularly, or repeatedly, in the past. It can also describe a past state or situation, for example: I used to live in Japan, but now I live in London. But to say you did something just once in the past, use the past simple.
So, the sentence I used to go to the gym on Saturdays means: I went to the gym on many Saturdays in the past. But the sentence I went to the gym last Saturday describes one event in the past, it's the past simple. To talk about what happens now, use a present tense.
I used to go running every day, but now I go running once a week.
You're listening to BBC Learning English.
And we're talking about used to. Let's take a look at negatives. Rob.
My sisters didn't use to talk to each other much but now they speak every day. Esra didn't use to have short hair, but she had a hair cut last week.
Thanks Rob. And the phrase didn't use to helps us talk about past states and activities that didn't happen in the past, but they do now. And for all persons, it's subject plus didn't plus use to plus an infinitive: My sisters didn't use to talk; Esra didn't use to have short hair. And there's a spelling note here isn't there Neil?
Yes there is. In positive sentences, used is spelt u-s-e-d, but in negative sentences and questions, it's just use: u-s-e, without the d at the end. But when we're speaking, they sound almost exactly the same. Listen to this:
I didn't use to get up early at the weekend. I used to stay in bed all morning.
Thanks Rob. Now, let's take a look at questions. Neil, which school did you use to go to?
I used to go to the local school.
OK. So, for questions like which school did you use to go to, it's did plus subject plus use to plus infinitive. And it's the same for yes/no questions. Neil, did you use to walk to school?
No, I didn't. I used to get the bus.
So, for questions: did, subject, use to and infinitive. And remember, used to is spelt u-s-e; no d.
OK, it's time for a quiz. Question 1. How do you spell used in this sentence? I didn't use to have a tablet.
It's u-s-e without d because it's a negative.
That's right. Number 2. What's the missing word? I [BLANK] to use social media every day, but now I only use it once a week.
And the answer is used with a d. I used to use social media every day.
...is the correct answer. And number three. Is this sentence right or wrong? I used to go to the gym last Friday.
And that's wrong, because it's a past event that happened only once. You can say I went to the gym last Friday, or you can say I used to go to the gym every Friday.
And that's the end of the quiz - and the end of the show. But there's more about used to at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Grammar.
End of Session 2
We've got to the end of Session 2. Join us in the next session for an article about robots that are miners. And Alice is back with a spelling tip!
We use the phrase used to when we want to talk about something we did regularly in the past, but we don't do now. We also use it to talk about a past fact which is no longer true.
I used to work at a restaurant, but now I work at a library.
NOT: I used to eat some cake last Saturday night. ('Saturday night' was just one time, so it was not something done regularly.)
Used to can help us to compare activities in the past and now.
I used to work at a restaurant in the past, and now I work at a library.
When we say used to, we do not do something now.
I used to work at a restaurant. I quit that job, and then got a new job at a library.
The different forms of this phrase are used to or did / did not / didn't + use to.