Would vs. Used To

'Would' and 'used to' are used to talk about habits which is why many learners confuse them. In this lesson, we will find out their difference.

"Would" vs. "Used To" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between 'would' and 'used to' is that 'would' talks about past habits that happened during a specific time-frame and 'used to' talks about past habits without a specific time frame.

Would

'Would' is a modal verb (also known as modals). Modals give additional information about the function of the main verb. 'Would' is used to talk about willingness, habits, offers, requests, etc. It is known as the past tense of the modal 'will.' Take a look at the following examples:

I would like to visit this museum.

They would try to find your purse.

Used to

'Used to' is a phrase and a semi-modal that indicates a past fact, habit, or action. Have a look:

I used to help my father with the woodwork.

He used to watch cartoons every Sunday morning.

Talking about Past Habits

Habits are routine actions. Habits tend to repeat themselves. Past habits are routines and repeated actions that occurred in the past but no longer happen. We use 'would' and 'used to' to talk about these habits; however, there is a distinction that requires your attention:

  • 'Would' only talks about past habits when the time frame is specified in the sentence. Have a look:

I would play Basketball when I was 10.

Here, we are indicating 'when' this habit happened.

When I was younger, I would watch my favorite movie on repeat.

  • 'Used to' talks about routine actions that stopped occurring in the past but we are not sharing the specific time frame.

I used to play Basketball.

Here, we do not know the specific time of this habit but we know it is in the past.

I used to watch my favorite movie on repeat.

Talking about Past States

When we want to talk about a situation or a certain state in the past, we use 'used to.' Note that we cannot use 'would' in this case since we are using stative verbs such as love, feel, be, and know. For example:

When I was younger, I used to live in California.

When I was younger, I would live in California.

Tip!

We can use stative verbs with 'would' only when we have a conditional sentence. For example:

I would understand if you explain it to me.

I would love to join you, if you like.

Question

We can create questions with 'would' and 'used to.'

Would

Yes/No Questions

To create these questions, we place 'would' at the beginning of the sentence followed by the subject and the main verb. Have a look:

You would help her out. → Would you help her out?

Harry would be away for a few days. → Would harry be away for a few days?

Wh-questions

To create wh-questions, we begin with a wh-word such as what, when, where, who, why, and how; then we use 'would' followed by the subject and the base form of the main verb. Look at these examples to see this process in action:

She would lose her job. → Why would she lose her job?

You would do it. → What would you do?

Used to

We can create

  • Yes/no questions
  • Wh-questions

Yes/No Questions

We can create questions with 'used to.' To do so, we begin with 'did' followed by the subject, 'used to,' and the rest of the sentence. For example:

Did you used to play in the backyard?

Did he used to be energetic?

Wh-questions

To create wh-questions with 'used to,' we begin with a wh-word such as what, where, who, why, and how; then we add 'did' followed by the subject, 'used to,' and the rest of the sentence. Here are some examples:

What did you used to do as a kid?

Where did you used to put your glasses?

Negation

We can create negative sentences with 'would' and 'used to.'

Would

To make the sentence negative, we add 'not' to 'would' as illustrated below:

  • WouldWould notWouldn't

Here are some examples:

She would do you harm. → She wouldn't do you harm.

He would read books all day if he could. → He wouldn't read books all day if he could.

Used to

To make a sentence with used to negative, we add 'did not' or its contracted form 'didn't' before 'use to' or 'used to.' Some may say that 'used to' is incorrect, however, it is correct but it is very uncommon. For instance:

I used to like onions. → I didn't used to like onions.

I used to live as poorly as I do now. → I didn't use to live as poorly as I do now.

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