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A question from Carol Nathan in Brazil:

When talking about habits in the past we can't use "would" with stative verbs. The verb "have", when it means possession, is stative.

My question is:
Is "to have fun" stative or active? Can I say "I would have a lot of fun when I was younger"?


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Rachel Wicaksono answers:

Hello Carol!

I've got a short answer to your question - and that's no! We can't say: "I would have a lot of fun when I was younger". As for why, that might take a little longer to explain!

Actually, your question pretty much explains the main reasons why your sentence isn't quite right. So, I'll just confirm your ideas and mention a few examples.

"Would", as you correctly suggest, is an auxiliary verb that can be used to talk about habitual actions - things that we do regularly. But "would" can also be used to talk about temporary or repeated events in the past. "Used to" and the simple past are also possible ways to talk about things we used to do in the past quite regularly.

Here's an example of each of the three forms:
"When I was a child I used to visit my Grandma once a week. She 'd let me stay up late and watch TV. I loved our special days together."

Now, whenever we're describing habitual actions and temporary or repeated events in the past, it's a good idea to try to vary our choice between "used to", "would" and "the past simple" - just to make our descriptions a bit more interesting! So that's what "used to" and "would" have in common - but what about the differences?

Well, I think that there are probably three main differences in the way we use "would" and "used to" to talk about the past ...
Firstly, only "used to" is used to describe permanent states in the past. For example:
"My grandma used to live in Indonesia."
"Would" is not used to describe permanent states in the past.
So, while we can say:
"We used to live in York" - because this describes a permanent or extended state
We can't say:
"I would live in York", because that has a different meaning.

Secondly, and I think this is the reason why
"I used to have a lot of fun when I was younger"
is better than
"I would have lots of fun when I was younger."
It's because we generally use "would" ONLY when the past time and the topic have already been established, or understood. In the second sentence:
"I would have lots of fun when I was younger" - they're not.

So we can say:
"I used to have a lot of fun when I was younger. We would spend hours playing football in the street,"
because here, we've established the past time and the topic by using "used to" or an expression like, "when I was a child" or "many years ago".

The third difference between "used to" and "would" is that "would" is often used with frequency adverbs, for example: "always", "usually" and "sometimes".
For example:
"When I was a child, I would sometimes feel afraid of the dark. Usually, I'd read until I fell asleep. And I would always leave the light on!"

So, just to summarise, both "used to" and "would" can be used to talk about habits, events and temporary states in the past. However, only "used to" can describe permanent states. I hope this helps, Carol ... have fun!

Rachel has taught English and trained teachers in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Japan and the UK. She is an IELTS examiner and a trainer and assessor for the Cambridge ESOL Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Currently, Rachel works at York St John University where she is Head of Programme for the MA English Language Teaching and the International Foundation Certificate.


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