Use To vs Used To: What's the difference?

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Lately, I’ve noticed some confusion with the way people use the idiomused 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.)

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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.)

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Part 3: use to

The only time that it is correct to use “use towithout 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!

What is a prepositional phrase?

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Have you ever tried to describe something without using a prepositional phrase?  Well, it’s almost impossible!  Although prepositional phrases are not a requirement in every sentence, they certainly do help us:  (a) add details, (b) create interest, and (c) make spatial and other relationships clear.

A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition (P) and ends with an object of the preposition (OP).  The OP can be a noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause

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A prepositional phrase can also include one or more words between the P and OP.  These words are called modifiers because they modify the OP.  Since the object of the preposition is a noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause, modifiers within the prepositional phrase will most likely be adjectives (Adj).  Adjective labels include:  (a) regular adjectives (Adj), (b) article adjectives (A), (c) possessive pronoun adjectives (PPA), and (d) possessive noun adjectives (PNA).

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Did you know that a prepositional phrase can modify like an adjective or adverb?  It’s true.  Prepositional phrases can function either as adjectives by modifying nouns and pronouns or as adverbs by modifying verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.  These prepositional phrases add important details to sentences, and their location can help you identify them as an adjective or adverb modifier.


Here are some facts to know about an adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase):

  1. An adjective phrase modifies a noun or pronoun.

  2. A prepositional phrase functioning as an adjective modifies like a one-word adjective by telling what kind or which one.

  3. More than one adjective phrase can be used to modify the same noun.

  4. Location: 

· An adjective phrase usually comes directly after the noun or pronoun it modifies.

· If two prepositional phrases are located together, with one right after the next, most of the time, the second phrase will be an adjective phrase that modifies the object of the first phrase.

· Sometimes, the prepositional phrase that comes directly after a direct object will not modify the direct object, but will modify the verb.


Here are some facts to know about an adverb phrase (or adverbial phrase):

  1.  An adverb phrase usually modifies a verb but can also modify an adjective or adverb.

  2. A prepositional phrase functioning as an adverb phrase modifies like a one-word adverb by telling how, when, where, why, or to what extent.

  3. Location: 

· When an adverb phrase modifies a verb, it can be located directly after the verb, at the beginning of the sentence, or it can be separated from the verb it modifies by being located somewhere else in the sentence. 

· An adverb phrase can also follow another prepositional phrase.

It’s Application Time! Review the sentence below during your discussion on prepositional phrases. Take notice of how the prepositional phrases help us:  (a) add details, (b) create interest, and (c) make spatial and other relationships clear.

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Jamie Geneva

Jamie Geneva is the Senior National Consultant at Shurley Instructional Materials and is a seasoned subject matter expert in the realm of English Language Arts.  Her career with the company began during the days of the Shurley Method binder, which was pre-1st Edition, and has spanned across three decades.  Over the years, her various roles have included teacher, presenter, state representative, consultant, manager, and most recently, a Shurley English Digital Assistant.  You might not recognize her face, but her voice could certainly sound familar.  That’s because she’s recorded Jingles, Q&A Flow Sentences, and other Shurley English content for many, many years. 

Jamie and her husband, Garret, live in the foothills of eastern Oklahoma. She loves spending quality time with her family, traveling, reading, cooking, and staying connected on social media.

Ms. Geneva received her B.S. degree in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Public School Administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK.