Using “Used to” and “Would” for Repeated Past Actions and Habits

Podcast #5 - Using Used To and Would For Repeated Past Actions and Habits

During the holiday season, many people start to reminisce about the ways they spent the holidays when they were children.

As I mentioned in my last podcast, we usually use the simple past tense to tell stories about the past.

When we are talking about repeated actions or habits that happened often in the past or situations that no longer exist, we can also use two other verb forms: “used to” and the modal verb “would” with a past meaning.

In this podcast, you’ll learn how we use “used to” and “would” to talk about actions or situations that existed in the past, but are different now.

Using “used to” and “would” helps add variety to our stories so that we sound more interesting.

Please enjoy the podcast, and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Transcript:

Welcome to Episode 5 of the English with Kim podcast!

This week, I’m going to talk to you about how to use “used to” and how to use “would” to talk about repeated actions or habits in the past.  Usually when we’re telling stories about our past,  we use the simple past tense.  We use the simple past tense for any sort of completed action in the past.

We can use the simple past tense to talk about repeated actions or habits in the past.  We just add an adverb of frequency, or some sort of adverb that tells us that it’s a repeated action like “every summer,” “every year,” “every month.”  For example, I can say, “When I was a child, I went to the beach every summer.”

So why would I use “used to” or “would” for repeated actions or habits in the past?  Well, we use “used to” and “would” because we want to signal that this action is something that we used to do a lot, something that happened frequently, but it doesn’t happen now.  Using “used to” or “would” also adds more variety to our story because if I only use the simple past tense, it can be a little repetitive.

So let’s talk about how to use “used to.”  We can use “used to” for any sort of habit that happened in the past.  Usually native speakers use “used to” to say that they did something a lot in the past, but it doesn’t happen now.  For example, I can say, “I used to play softball, but now I don’t.”  Using “used to” signals to my listener that this is a habit that is no longer true.  This is something that happened a lot in the past.

We also use “used to” with stative verbs, or to describe a situation that used to be true in the past.  For example, I can say, “I used to live in New York, but now I live in Boston.”

“Used to” also has a negative form, “didn’t use to.”  I can say, “When I was a child, I didn’t use to like tomatoes, but now I love tomatoes.”  This is something that has changed, so I’m using “used to” to signal this change.

It’s important to remember that we only use “used to” when we’re talking about habits or something that’s repeated.  I wouldn’t use “used to” to describe a situation that only happened once.  For example, when I’m talking about my vacation last summer, I wouldn’t use “used to,” I would just use the simple past.

So how about “would”?  When do we use “would” for habits or repeated actions?  We can use “would” in many of the same ways that we use “used to” with one major exception.  We don’t use “would” when we’re talking about states or situations that were true in the past.  I can’t use “would” with any kind of stative verb like “understand,” “know,” “like,” because it gets confusing.  It starts sounding like a conditional form of “would.”

You often hear the word “would” with always, so I could say, “When I was a child, I would always sleep until 10AM.”  It’s very common for native speakers to use “would” with the contraction.  For example, “When I lived in New York, I’d buy a bagel for breakfast every morning.”

As a reminder, we can’t use “would” with stative verbs.  I can’t say, “I’d know how to do geometry problems.”  I can say, “I used to know how to do geometry problems.”

We often use “used to” and “would” together to sound a little more interesting.  For example, I can say, “When I was a child, I used to visit my grandmother every weekend.  We’d bake cookies and talk about what I learned in school that week.  We used to have so much fun.  I loved spending time with my grandmother.”

When telling this short story, I used “used to,” then “would,” then “used to,” and then a simple past verb.  Using all of these different verb forms makes my story more interesting for my listener.

Finally, it’s important to talk a little bit about the pronunciation of “used to.”  When I use it in a full sentence, it actually sounds like “ust-ah”, for example, “I ust-ah love watching tv when I was younger.

As you can see, using “used to” and “would” to talk about repeated actions or habits in the past is not very difficult as long as you remember that you can’t use “would” for situations or states that used to be true in the past.  You have to use “used to” instead.

I hope you feel a little more comfortable using these past tense verb forms now that you’ve listened to this podcast.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Thank you for listening to the English with Kim podcast.

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