Sometimes, while speaking or doing some grammar tasks, you can get confused what to use: used to, be used to or get used to. Some people might think that three of them are the same and it is just another nuance in English language. Nevertheless, although these grammar structures may look similar, they have completely different meanings.
Why don’t we begin with the one that is the most familiar to us (probably because it is taught since pre-intermediate level) – grammar structure USED TO? I’m pretty sure that you know that we use ‘used to’ to talk about things that happened in the past – repeated actions or states – that no longer happen now. For example:
- We used to play tennis every Saturday together, but now we work on Saturdays.
- Did you use to play any musical instrument when you were a child? – No, I didn’t.
- They didn’t use to come to work on time, so they were fired.
- He used to be fat, but he is fit now.
You already know, or at least may have noticed in the examples above that to form question we use auxiliary verb ‘did’ and to form negative sentence we use its negative form ‘didn’t’.
It must also be mentioned that we can always substitute ‘used to’ in the sentence for Past Simple form (E.g. He used to work in the USA. — He worked in the USA.), BUT at the same time not always we can use ‘used to’ instead Past Simple, since ‘used to’ indicates repeated action in the past. For example:
Last year we went to Brazil. – You cannot use ‘used to’ to form a sentence with a similar meaning. If you say Last year we used to go to Brazil, it will mean that we went to Brazil at least twice.
At the same time, when we speak about past states we may use both Past Simple and ‘used to’.
When I was a child, I lived in Brazil. – In this case you can also say: When I was a child, I used to live in Brazil.
Pay attention that we use ‘used to’ only to speak about past. There is no present tense equivalent of ‘used to’. To talk about present habits we use the Present Simple and an adverb of frequency (usually, always, often, never, etc.) For example:
I often eat at the Japanese restaurant in the city centre.
Some of you may think that to talk about present habits you can use BE USED TO (E.g. Eva is used to drinking 2 litres of water every day.), but you are wrong. We use ‘be used to’ when we want to say that we are accustomed to something and we don’t find it unusual. So, if we analyze the example about water mentioned above, it can be said that before it was unusual or not very convenient for Eva to drink 2 litres of water every day, but now it’s absolutely OK with her.
Under the picture, there is another example of ‘be used to’ usage. Maybe this young gentleman lives in London or any other city with gloomy weather and for him such weather is not a surprise.
The examples above show us that ‘be used to’ can be followed by a noun (or pronoun) or the gerund – the ‘ing’ form of a verb.
Unlike ‘used to’, ‘be used’ can be used with past, present and future tenses. For example:
If you are not yet accustomed to something, but you are on your way to it, you have to use GET USED TO. We use this structure to talk about the process of something becoming normal for us. For example:
You can see from the examples that as well as ‘be used to’, ‘get used to’ is followed by a noun (or pronoun) or the gerund. It also can be used with different tenses.
To sum up, don’t you forget that USED TO tells us about habits (repeated actions and states) in the past, while BE/GET USED TO tell us about us being accustomed or getting accustomed to something in the present, the past or the future. So, get used to these rules!
If you are still getting used to the information above and you want to be used to it, visit these links and practice more! Believe me, everyone used to be confused with this topic!