Used To vs Past Simple – Learn the Difference

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  • Post last modified:06/07/2021
  • Post category:English Grammar
  • Reading time:5 mins read

Used to vs Past Simple. Many of my students often have difficulties understanding when to use ‘used to’ construction.

In English, we use both Used To and Past Simple when we’re talking about events that happened in the past.

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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.

Forms of Used to

1️⃣ Affirmative (Statement)

I used to live her.

My brother used to be a teacher.

We used to have a dog.

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2️⃣ 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.

3️⃣ 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.)

Important rule about 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.)

Used to vs Past Simple - Summary Grammar Rules

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When to use Used to in English

1. for  actions in the past that do not happen in the present

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

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 we use used to, we often use adverbs of frequency:

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.

I explain the difference between Used To vs Past Simple in detail with plenty of examples in my 6-hour English Grammar Rules Refresher Course. You will also learn the difference between get used to  and be used to. Enrol today to start using the English grammar without thinking.

When to use The Past Simple in English

1. for  single past actions and events

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.)

When we use the Past Simple Tense we often use the following trigger words:

YESTERDAY, LAST YEAR, THIS EVENING, LAST MONTH

2. for longer past actions or events

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. for repeated past actions or events

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

Ann played tennis twice when we went on holidays.

When to use either Used to or Past Simple

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.

More Information

For more information in English Expressions, English Phrasal Verbs and English Grammar Rules, check out the following links:

English Verbs for Expressing Sounds

English Idioms related to Dreams

Learning English with the BBC

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