Talking about Habits

Habits are things that we do regularly, from the past to the present time. Sometimes we can use some modals and semi-modals to refer to habits.

How to "Talk about Habits" in English?

What Do We Mean by Habits?

'Habits' are usually hard to give up because they refer to special tendencies or actions that have been done for a long time, so they are considered habitual.
There are modals and semi-modals that can indicate habits. Here is the list:

Using 'Would'

You can use the modal verb 'would' to refer to past habits, or in other words to refer to actions that you did in the past. Sometimes when the word 'would' is emphasized it implies a sense of annoyance. Check out the examples:

He would talk about his ex-girlfriend all the time.

He would play basketball on Sundays when he was at primary school.

Using 'Will'

The modal verb 'will' is used to express present habits that are sometimes annoying but not always. When the speaker wants to indicate annoyance they usually add stress to the modal verb 'will.'

He will get up late as usual.

Sam will answer the phones in our office.

Using 'Used to'

We use the semi-modal 'used to' in the 'past tense' to refer to past habits. When we use used to we indicate that the action is no longer true and it is not happening anymore.

Tony used to go to the gym.

Chiara and I used to play together when we were 7.

Tip!

It is important to know that the semi-modal 'used to' is followed by a bare infinitive (infinitive without 'to').

I used to cook when I was in China.

Be Used to and Get Used to

'Be used to' and 'get used to' are phrases that are used to indicate we are accustomed to something or we are going to be accustomed to it. These two phrases are followed by (verb+ing).

She gets used to living alone, after a while.

Would or Used to?

When it comes to action verbs it is correct to use either 'would' or 'used to' to refer to past habits. But with state verbs using 'would' is not considered correct and you have to use 'used to.'

I used to dislike chicken and rice, but now I love it.

She would run because she was scared of cats.

using 'present simple' to talk about habits

Talking about Annoying Habits

Present Continuous

The 'Present Continuous' can be used with 'always' (adverb of frequency) to indicate that an action of somebody is really annoying and they do it habitually.

She is always trying to go through my personal stuff.

Jack and Sara are always telling lies to us.

Main Verb 'Keep'

The main verb 'keep' can be followed by gerunds (verb + ing). To show that someone does something in a way that annoys people.

She keeps talking to my boyfriend.

My friends keep ditching me.

Past Continuous

We can use past continuous followed by the adverb 'always,' to refer to an act of somebody which was repeated, over and over, in a way that annoyed you.

Hanna was always blaming me for everything.

They were always laughing loudly in the dormitory, when we were trying to sleep.

Main Verb 'Keep': Past Tense

The main verb 'keep' can be used in the past tense followed by a gerund (verb + ing) to refer to things that happened repeatedly in the past in an annoying way.

He kept accusing me for everything.

Gianni kept wearing too much perfume.

Using Past Simple or Present Simple

As you know past simple and present simple, both can be used to refer to habits in past and present, especially when they are used with some adverbs, but they can never show that the action is no longer true.

Daniella went to her grandmother's house every Monday.

She talks to a therapist twice a week.

Using 'Tend'

'Tend' can be used to indicate a person has desires to do something and as a result, they do it habitually. Remember the verb after 'tend' has to be an infinitive with 'to'. Check out the examples.

She tends to stay in her house on the weekends.

John tended to pay for her dinner every time they went out.

Warning

The only modal verbs in this article are 'would' and 'will' and the only semi-modal is 'used to'. Other 'verbs' and 'tenses' are just discussed to help you learn more to talk about habits.

Review

You can use some modal verbs and semi-modal verbs to talk about your habits. You usually talk about your present, past habits. But sometimes you are doing something at the time and you want to express that in the future it will be a habit for you. Check out the table below to get to know the verbs and the tenses they are used in, to talk about habits.

past present future
will
would
be used to
get used to

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