Use to or Used to: A Definitive Guide on Usage

Do you have trouble correctly using ‘use to’ or ‘used to’ in speech or writing? That’s okay! I’m a native speaker and mess up on this grammar concept every now and then. So don’t feel bad if you mix this one up, it’s a common mistake.

In this article, we will break down the usage of both phrases and provide examples for context.

“To” as an Infinitive

Used to and use to both have idiomatic meanings that we’ll cover in later sections.

First, let’s look at the proper use of to as an infinitive in a sentence. In this instance, used to or use to are a part of a larger verb phrase and to is the infinitive of the second verb. Look at the examples below:

  • What tools did he use to assemble the computer?
  • Anti-static kits were used to assemble the motherboards

Using use to or used to will depend on the tense of the sentence.

“Used to” Meaning Something Normal or Usual

When writing or speaking about something that usually happens or something you’re accustomed to, always use: used to.

Examples:

  • It was difficult at first, but I’m used to it now.
  • He’s used to the idea now.
  • I’m not used to being told what to do.

The confusion with use to or used to in a sentence is they both sound similar when spoken. We tend to spell things based on how they sound.

Use To or Used To: Listening Exercise

Click the play button to start the listening exercise.

In the first sentence, the speaker says used to. In the second, he says use to. Can you tell which sentence correctly uses: used to or use to? Answer: The first sentence is the correct usage of the word.

In fact, English is full of commonly misspelled words because of various grammar rules. But don’t let that confuse you in this situation. If you’re speaking about something that you or someone normally does, the correct form is used.

“Get Used to It”

In the above examples, the formula for creating the phrase is to be + used. However, there is an idiomatic phrase related to the above construction that you’ll hear often in American English.

The formula is get + used to OR to be + getting (participle) + used to. It means that the sense of normalcy about something is still ongoing. Again, used is always the correct form.

Examples:

  • Learning to swim has been tough for Jennifer, but she’s getting used to it.
  • I just started working the night shift, but I’ll get used to it.

“Used To” as a Past Action, Idea or Fact

The last instance of this idiomatic phrase is when speaking about something that occured or existed in the past but not anymore. You may see usage of a present tense compliment to this form in older English books from the 19th Century, but that form is long gone.

Only used to is used in this instance.

Examples:

  • I used to say that I believed in her, but I don’t anymore.
  • There used to be a convenience store on the corner, but it closed a few months ago.
  • She used to jog on Tuesday mornings, but they changed her schedule.

An Exception

There is one exception where use to is correct in this usage: when pairing the phrase with did or didn’t. 

Examples:

  • Did she use to jog on Tuesday mornings?
  • She didn’t use to jog on Wednesdays. It was usually Tuesdays.

However, the negative construction can seem a bit too formal. It’s best to use the simple past tense without the phrase.

  • She didn’t jog on Wednesdays. It was usually Tuesdays.

Here are some additional resources:

With this guide, hopefully you have some confidence in using use to or used to. As you can see, you’ll mostly stick to used to with one exception.

Be sure to bookmark this site for reference when writing and leave a comment below to let us know if you can think of any other commonly confused words.

As always, visit Magoosh Speaking for all things ESL grammar related!

No comments yet.


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply