USED TO vs PAST SIMPLE – Learn English Grammar Tenses

In English we use both USED TO and PAST SIMPLE when talking about events that happened in the past. However, it is easy to confuse USED TO with PAST SIMPLE. Which one should you use? Let’s take a closer look and go in details through English Grammar rules so that you can better understand the difference between USED TO vs PAST SIMPLE.

Learn English Grammar Tenses: Used to vs Past Simple

Forms of used to:

Affirmative

I used to live her.

My brother used to be a teacher.

We used to have a dog.

Negative

I did not (didn’t) use to live here.

My brother did not (didn’t) use to be a teacher.

We did not (didn’t) use to have a dog.

Interrogative (Question)

Did you use to live here? (answer – Yes, I did.)

Did your brother use to be a teacher?

Did they use to have a dog? (Answer – No, they didn’t.)

There is no present form of used to:

I use to live here. – this is wrong

I live here. – this is correct

I am used to spending time with my grandparents at the weekends. (=I often spend time with my grandparents; it isn’t unusual, I still do it.)

I used to spend time with my grandparents at the weekends. (=I spent time with my grandparents in the past; it doesn’t happen anymore.)

When to use ‘USED TO’ in English:

1. We use used to + infinitive to talk about actions in the past that do not happen in the present

I used to take the train to college every day. (But now I take the bus to work every day.)

In the past people used to send letters by post. (But now they send emails.)

I used to have long hair when I was young. (But now I have short hair.)

2. We often use adverbs of frequency with used to – always, regularly, once a week, never, once a year, etc

I always used to go to the gym on Saturdays.

She used to cycle to work once a week.

We often used to stay up late when we were in college.

3. We use used to + infinitive to talk about situations in the past that are no longer true.

My brother used to be a teacher. (But now he is not a teacher anymore, he is a writer.)

Russia used to have a Tsar.

When to use Past Simple in English:

1. We use the Past Simple to talk about single past actions and events

I bought a new dress yesterday. (NOT I used to buy a new dress yesterday.)

The time is often mentioned with the Past Simple – yesterday, last year, in the evening

2. We use the Past Simple to talk about longer past actions or events

Jim studied archaeology for two years. (NOT Jim used to study archaeology for two years.)

3. We use the Past Simple to talk about repeated past actions and events

Ann played tennis twice when we went on holidays.

We can use either Used to or Past Simple if we don’t give an exact time reference:

I stayed/used to stay with my aunt when I was younger.

The building across the road was/used to be a police station.

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