Lately, I’ve noticed some confusion with the way people use the idiom “used to” in a sentence. Some write “use to” and others write “used to?” Do you know which one is correct?
“Use to” and “used to” cause confusion for a couple of good reasons. First of all, they sound exactly the same when you say them out loud; however, one is correct and the other is often a mistake. The second reason is because it can be used in the sentence as an adjective phrase or as a verb phrase.
Before we step into usage quicksand, let’s quickly review idioms. (You can also check out my previous blog on the subject entitled: What is an idiom?) “An idiom is an informal expression that cannot be understood simply by understanding its parts. It is a figure of speech that has a separate meaning of its own, which is figurative and not literal. When two or more words are expressed together to create a unique meaning that is different from the meaning of each of the individual words, an idiom is created.”
In order to understand how to use this idiom correctly when speaking and writing, let’s do a quick vocabulary check.
Part 1: used to
As an adjective phrase, “used to” means “in the habit of” or “familiar with.”
Farmers are used to working outdoors in all seasons.
(Farmers often work outdoors in the rain, snow, sleet, heat, and hail and are not bothered by it as much as people who don’t work outdoors.)
Part 2: used to
As a verb phrase, “used to” or “did use to” + a verb means “did formerly; did in the past but not anymore. ---Usually used with an infinitive to tell about something past.
Uncle Tim used to have a beard, but he shaved it off.
(Uncle Tim once had a beard, but he doesn’t have one now.)
Part 3: use to
The only time that it is correct to use “use to” without the –d at the end is when the base form of the verb is used along with a negative or in a question. That’s because the form of the verb required is infinitive.
Example: (Note that past tense is shown with the words did and didn’t.)
She didn’t use to ride her bike before noon.
Did Uncle Tim use to have a beard?
The next time you are confused about using “use to” or “used to,” remember to do this quick vocabulary check. You will be glad you did!