Used To vs. Use To

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

Which is correct – 
He USED to go to the game on Friday.
He USE to go to the game on Friday.

When the statement is positive, as in the reader’s example, the expression is used to.

In negative statements, the expression is use to. For example, “He didn’t use to go to the game on Friday.”

The expressions are used to speak about things that were habitually done in the past. Both used and use are followed by an infinitive. For example:

We used to play baseball every Saturday.

I used to live in Cleveland.

There used to be a house on that corner.

The d is dropped when the sentence is negative:

I didn’t use to worry about money.

I didn’t use to celebrate Christmas.

There didn’t use to be a gas station on that corner.

Here are some current examples from the Web:

Chris Pratt Used To Live In A Scooby Doo Van

Pope Francis reveals he used to work as a bar bouncer

He [Jon Stewart] didn’t use to care and his show was funnier.

Actors didn’t use to be celebrities.

Women didn’t use to talk politics in this country. 

I used to tell people we’d sell everything but the kitchen sink.

I used to love this view 

Positive sentence: used to.
Negative sentence with didn’t: use to.

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7 Responses to “Used To vs. Use To”

  • David

    I’m curious if this is standard or just a dialect thing, but my “s” sounds different when I use this expression. Normally, “use” sounds like “youze” when I say it, but if I say that I “used to” do something, I pronounce it like “yous” (and I’m certain that my pronunciations aren’t written correctly, but hopefully my point gets across).

    Second question: is there a difference, grammatically, between these examples and “used” to mean “accustomed” (e.g. She’s not used to being rejected)?

  • Nancy

    Does anyone know the origins of this phrase? It must drive ESL students crazy, because the individual words’ definitions are of no help in understanding the phrase’s meaning.

  • thebluebird11

    @David: I understand what you mean; in one case the S sounds like a Z, in the other case it sounds like an S. I think it’s because in the second case the D sound (from “used”) is followed by the T sound (from “to”), compounded by the fact that the two words are almost inseparable, said very quickly one after the other, different from when you might say, for example, “I used tools.” (Also D followed by T but a brief pause there to emphasize tools, so you still hear the Z sound in used).
    @Maeve: I kind of thought that “didn’t use to” was kind of colloquial, slangy, informal…I didn’t know it was official. I would think the “correct” way of saying it would be “I never used to…”, in which case the D would still be required at the end there?

  • Bruce Kallick

    @Maeve: I think this article misses the mark — the distinction is not really about positivity/negativity. For example,
    He USED to go to the game on Friday.
    He did USE to go to the game on Friday.
    He didn’t USE to go to the game on Friday.
    He never USED to go to the game on Friday.

    @Nancy: The meaning of “use to do something” is similar to ”choose to do something” just as one might “use” a tool or “choose” a tool.

  • Umer Baloch

    I completely agree with Bruce Kallick because I had the exact same views on this article. Because when we use “did” in a sentence, the past form of the verb is not required. Are we right?

  • Aremu Daniel

    The conventional word for negation is ”not” (albeit not without exceptions), so I agree with Maeve’s assertion to some extent though. Also, you can’t use past suffixes to verbs that come after ‘did’.

  • Boo Long

    It’s not so simple as negative statements always using “use to”,,
    Such as “I never used to do that” which is negative but uses “used to”.
    The basic rule is not doubling the past tense in the sentence.

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