This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Search BBC
BBC World Service
BBC BBC News BBC Sport BBC Weather BBC World Service Worldservice languages
spacer gif
You are in: Learning English > Grammar and Vocabulary > Learn It!
Learning English
spacer gif
learn it! title
 'used to' / 'get used to'
Supawadee from Thailand asks:

I always confuse to be used to and used to, especially the meaning of them. Please kindly show me what the differences are.
Roger replies:more questions

When we use used to, we are talking about something which happened regularly or was true at an earlier stage in our lives but which is now over.

Thus, it can only be used in the past tense. If we want to talk about present habits or states, we simply use the present simple tense.

With the negative we often say never used to in preference to didn't use to or used not to - in an informal register. Study the following examples:

  • 'Do you remember? There used to be fields of clover where those houses are now.'

  • 'I never used to smoke, but now I smoke twenty a day.'

  • 'You used to play chess with your friends, but nowadays you play chess with your computer.'

  • 'I used to buy really expensive make-up, but that was when I was working full-time.'

To make questions, we use the normal auxiliary did. Note that used to cannot be used in question tag form. Note also the possible/probable replies to used to questions.

Study the following examples:

  • 'Did you use to go ice-skating when you were young?' 'No, I never did.'

  • 'Didn't you use to ring the school to say you were ill and then play poker with Sam?' 'I sometimes did, yeah!'

  • 'You used to do ballet in the church hall, didn't you?' 'Yes, I did. Every Saturday between the ages of nine and twelve.'

be used to + noun or -ing
get used to + noun or -ing

If somebody gets or is used to something, he becomes or is fully familiar with it. It is no longer strange or awkward. It can refer to past, present or future experiences. Study the following:

  • 'These are very high heels, I know, but I'm sure you'll get used to (wearing) them.'

  • 'I wasn't used to living in such a small flat and I found it really hard at first.'

  • 'I'm used to all the noise now, but I'd always lived in the country before, you see, where it is very quiet.'

  • 'I never got used to shaking hands with people all the time when I lived there. It's just not the custom in our country.'

  • 'Are you getting used to the accent now? It's very different from standard English, isn't it?

In all of the above examples be or get used to can be replaced by be or become accustomed to which is very similar in meaning, if a little more formal.

Read through them again using these replacement verbs. So, just to recap and confirm:

  • 'When I lived in Mexico, I used to drink tequila at every opportunity.' (A regular habit then, but probably not now.)

  • 'I found it quite a strong drink at first, but I soon got used to it.' (It quickly became quite palatable.)

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us