Grammar. 23.10.2010
Grammar Teacher

USED TO and WOULD for past habits

Автор: Grammar Teacher
Осінь – пора смутку. Це той час, коли світ навколо видається чимось абстрактним і, як ніколи, зовнішнім. Це навесні чи влітку ми єднаємось з природою, прагнемо її обіймів, а восени природа чужа, майже безмовна. Ось ти – їдеш у транспорті, дивишся за вікно, а онде вона -  печальна рудоволоса красуня, здавалося б, лише за товщею скла, а насправді безмежно далеко…

 Осінь - пора спогадів.  Мов пожовклі фотознімки, виринають з пам’яті фрагменти минулого. Як вирок звучить мелодія відомого українського гурту:

Восени так солодко чіплятись за минуле.
Раз прийшли у груди ті, кого нема вже.
З ними ті, кого не буде…
Іноді так солодко бити по собі минулим.
Знаєш, хтось у голові моїй прорізав дірку,
Звідти кіноплівка чорно-білим по живому ріже

 Найяскравіші спогади – ті, що з дитинства. Тож я запрошую вас у коротку подорож моїми дитячими стежками…

             I never carried about the weather. What is more, I used to believe that any weather conditions could be good for playing outside. Autumn… There was something special about it, much more special than it seems to be now. The air, light, smell, rain – all this used to feel different. Every day I would spend ages just playing with leaves. I’d collect them, bury my face in them, and even read them. All toys in the world used to seem foolish compared to them.
 I remember those huge piles of leaves everywhere! What a surprise I never see them nowadays. Isn’t there any or am I just blind? How happy I used to be jumping onto that soft orange “bed”.  I would jump onto it over and over again no matter how wet and dirty I was! Mum used to quarrel with me and call me “a draggle-tail”. But how inconsequential it was compared to the joy and peace I felt inside…


As you could notice I was writing about things that were true in the past but not true anymore.  

When we’re remembering the past and trying to show that our lives are not the same now, we can use The Past Simple. But alone it doesn’t show us if something only happened once or it was regularly repeated. In other words we can’t say if it was a single action or a PAST HABIT.
For example:

I helped my sister with her homework.

From this sentence we can’t conclude whether I helped my sister once, twice, or every day. To show this you need to add extra information:

I helped my sister with her homework when we’re children (many times in the past, but not now).
At school I behaved really badly (all the time, or many times, but now I don’t).

But still when you’d like to talk about your or somebody else’s PAST HABITS it’s recommendable to use other structures such as USED TO and WOULD.

1. USED TO + verb 
is used to talk about:

 a) habitual or regular actions that NO LONGER happen:

I used to play football every weekend but I don't have time now.
We used to collect her from school.

In this case you don’t need any additional phrases to emphasize that it was regular and that it’s no longer true because this construction “USED TO” speaks louder than any words.

 b) A past state (a situation or feeling) that lasted a long time but which is NO LONGER true:

We used to live in London (now we live in county).
I used to be very thin
(now I’m not very thin).
We used to love this restaurant (now we never go there).

In this “potpourri” you can find some examples of the expression "used to+infinitive".

The song below by Pink also contains “used to” sentences:
You used to hold the door for me
Now you can't wait to leave
You used to send me flowers
If you fucked up in my dreams
I used to make you laugh with all
The silly shit I did
Now you roll your eyes and
Walk away and shake your head…

2. WOULD+verb is only used for repeated past  actions (as in 1a above)

She would often go to noisy London clubs (many times in the past, but not now).

The short version of would is ‘d:

They’d go for long walks in the countryside.

In the well-know song “Tonight” by Reamon we can find some vivid examples:

…She never wanted love to fail
She always hoped that it was real
She’d look me in the eyes
And say believe me…
…And as the hands would turn with time
She’d always say that she was mine
She’d turn and lend a smile
To say that she’s gone…

3. Would or used to

When we are telling a story and recollecting an event from long ago, we often prefer to use WOULD to describe repeated behaviour in the past, although both would and USED TO are possible:

Do you remember what we used to get up to when we were teenagers? How I would wait for you nearly every afternoon after school and then we would stroll home together across the park, holding hands, and you would feed the ducks on the pond while I had a cigarette?

USED TO and WOULD, as can see, are both used for past habits. There is, however, a difference between the two. Would describes repeated actions, but not states, while used to can refer to both repeated actions and states.

Compare these two sentences:

1) From time to time he would get up and glance critically over his work and look at his models.
2) I would like to go home.

The second sentence cannot refer to past time as the verb like expresses a state, not an action. Therefore it cannot express a past habit but only a present state. For the very same reason the following sentence is incorrect:

While at school he would be the smartest kid in the class.

Instead of would you need to use used to:

While at school he used to be the smartest kid in the class.

Would is more likely than used to when you describe more than one past action, like the four here:

I’d come home late, and my mother would worry about me, and she’d get upset, and she’d start arguing.


 WOULD and USED TO are both followed be the infinitive WITHOUT to:


Positive statements Negative statements Wh-question
used to cycle
would (I'd...) cycle
didn't use to cycle

I used not to cycle

Used not to is less common
Where did they use to cycle?
Yes/No questions Positive short answers Negative answers
Did you use to cycle? Yes, I did No, I didn't








As you can see, negative and question forms of WOULD with this meaning are not commonly used. 

 In the negative you cannot use would without a change in meaning.

I didn't use to play with my dolls – RIGHT
I wouldn't play with my dolls – WRONG, because it means “I REFUSED to play with my dolls”
We didn't use to go out much in the winter months - RIGHT
We wouldn't go out much. – WRONG, beсause it means “We REFUSED to go out much.”

Here’s a nice piece of reading, an extract from the book ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini. I’d like you to read it and pay attention to the underlined words.

When we were children, Hassan and I used to climb the poplar trees in the driveway of my father’s house and annoy our neighbors by reflecting sunlight into their homes with a shard of mirror. We would sit across from each other on a pair of high branches, our naked feet dangling, our trouser pockets filled with dried mulberries and walnuts. We took turns with the mirror as we ate mulberries, pelted each other with them, giggling, laughing; I can still see Hassan up on that tree, sunlight flickering through the leaves on his almost perfectly round face, a face like a Chinese doll chiseled from hardwood: his flat, broad nose and slanting, narrow eyes like bamboo leaves, eyes that looked, depending on the light, gold, green, even sapphire I can still see his tiny low-set ears and that pointed stub of a chin, a meaty appendage that looked like it was added as a mere afterthought. And the cleft lip, just left of midline, where the Chinese doll maker’s instrument may have slipped; or perhaps he had simply grown tired and careless.

Sometimes, up in those trees, I talked Hassan into firing walnuts with his slingshot at the neighbor’s one-eyed German shepherd. Hassan never wanted to, but if I asked, really asked, he wouldn’t deny me. Hassan never denied me anything. And he was deadly with his slingshot. Hassan’s father, Ali, used to catch us and get mad, or as mad as someone as gentle as Ali could ever get. He would wag his finger and wave us down from the tree. He would take the mirror and tell us what his mother had told him, that the devil shone mirrors too, shone them to distract Muslims during prayer. "And he laughs while he does it,” he always added, scowling at his son.

"Yes, Father,” Hassan would mumble, looking down at his feet. But he never told on me. Never told that the mirror, like shooting walnuts at the neighbor’s dog, was always my idea.

Now that you’ve read my memories as well as the memories of this character why not share your own memories from childhood? I can’t wait to read them!!!!!!!!

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