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    #1

    Would/used to

    Hi there.
    I have problem in using used to and would. Can anyone tell me the exact difference between these two? I have checked some grammar books but the difference is not completely clear for me.

  1. 5jj's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Would/used to

    Both would and used to can refer to habitual past actions and events:

    In my childhood I used to/would often create little plays for my teddy bears to act out.

    Only used to can refer to past states:

    I used to/would be very fit.

    If we wish to make it clear that the action or event no longer happens, only used to is acceptable. The following was said by somebody who now walks to work:

    I used to/would drive to work.

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    #3

    Re: Would/used to

    By '=' I mean 'equivalent to'. 'bare verb' can be any verb.
    'used to' + bare verb = simple past of 'bare verb' I used to be very fit. I was very fit.
    'would' + bare verb = simple past of 'bare verb' or past subjunctive of 'will' + 'bare verb' = a conditional statement..

    Which value 'would' takes is not clear without further context:

    I would drive to work.
    In the past, I would drive to work every day. Since my heart attack, I try to walk more.
    In the past, I drove to work every day. Since my heart attack, I try to walk more.

    I would drive to work, if I had a car. = I have no car, so I cannot drive to work. I didn't drive to work: this is subjunctive 'would'.

    'used to + be is always equivalent to 'was'. 'would + be' can be equivalent to 'was', but is more often not the same as 'was'.

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    #4

    Re: Would/used to

    Hi fivejedjon
    Thanks, but what is your justification to Pedroski'
    s comment that "I would drive to work" is correct.

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    #5

    Re: Would/used to

    Quote Originally Posted by mehdihas View Post
    Hi fivejedjon
    Thanks, but what is your justification to Pedroski'
    s comment that "I would drive to work" is correct.
    "I would drive to work" is correct but incomplete. "I would drive to work if I had a car" is correct. "I would drive to work in the past, now I walk" is correct. The meanings are different.

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    #6

    Re: Would/used to

    We've got great responses above, but please allow me to add this:


    We use both of these to talk about things in the past which we don't do now or are not happening now. Sometimes both 'used to' and 'would' are OK in one sentence - sometimes only 'used to'.

    Let's start with some examples of 'used to' first. We might say,

    "I used to live in Manchester, but I moved to London last year."
    "When he was at school, he used to play football every Saturday."
    "She used to hate her job until she got a promotion."

    All of these sentences describe actions or situations in the past, which are finished now; living in Manchester, playing football every Saturday, hating her job - these are all finished now.

    We use 'used to' to talk about actions or situations that continued for some time in the past, not for events which happened suddenly or just for a moment. So we can't say: 'I used to have a really good idea when I was brushing my teeth this morning,' because 'having a really good idea' happens suddenly - in one moment.

    Now let's move on to 'would'. Here are some examples:
    "When he was at university, he would sleep until noon at the weekends."
    "My sister lived in Australia for many years, but she would always come home for Christmas."
    "I would always forget my homework, until the teacher threatened to punish me."

    Again, these sentences are about situations in the past, which are finished. However, it's important to notice that all the sentences, here, are about actions or situations which were repeated again and again and again. Sleeping until noon at the weekends, coming home for Christmas, forgetting my homework - all these things were repeated many times, again and again and again.

    This is the difference between 'would' and 'used to' -
    We only use 'would' to describe actions or situations that were repeated again and again and again...
    But we use 'used to' for any extended action or situation in the past.

    'Would' is only good for actions or situations that were repeated many times;
    'Used to' is good for any action or situation that continued for a period of time in the past, including repeated actions or situations.

    To make this clearer, let's look at the three examples of 'used to' sentences, and see if we can change them into 'would' sentences.


    Here's the first example again:
    "I used to live in Manchester, but I moved to London last year."

    Can we use 'would' instead of 'used to' here?
    No, we can't, because 'living in Manchester' wasn't repeated again and again and again. It's simply a situation in the past. Therefore, only 'used to' is good in this sentence.

    The second example again:
    " When he was at school, he used to play football every Saturday."

    Here, we're talking about 'playing football every Saturday'. This is an action that was repeated many times, so we can also say:
    "When he was at school, he would play football every Saturday".
    'Used to' and 'would' are both good here, and the meaning is the same.

    Finally, the third example again:
    "She used to hate her job until she got a promotion."

    Did she 'hate her job' many times?
    No, this isn't a repeated action, so in this example 'would' isn't possible. We have to use 'used to'.

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    #7

    Re: Would/used to

    Pedroski is here giving opinions with which I, and many others, disagree.

    P: "By '=' I mean 'equivalent to'. 'bare verb' can be any verb.
    'used to' + bare verb = simple past of 'bare verb' I used to be very fit. I was very fit."

    5jj: This statement is over-simplified, Used to conveys extra shades of meaning, such as: this was a habitual action and it no longer occurs.

    Corum:" 'would' + bare verb = [...] past subjunctive of 'will' + 'bare verb' "

    5jj: As has frequently been pointed out in other threads, most writers do not consider that would is a subjunctive form.

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    #8

    Re: Would/used to

    Quote Originally Posted by mehdihas View Post
    Hi fivejedjon
    Thanks, but what is your justification to Pedroski's comment that "I would drive to work" is correct.
    I think response is a more appropriate word than justification. The last three lines of my first post deal with this. Bhaisahab's two lines expand on this.

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    #9

    Re: Would/used to

    thanks 5jj,
    What do you think about sunsunmoon response. Do you think that it's a bit more to the point and exact? The reasons that this member has provided seem quite acceptible.

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    #10

    Re: Would/used to

    Quote Originally Posted by mehdihas View Post
    What do you think about sunsunmoon's response. Do you think that it's a bit more to the point and exact?.
    Immodestly, I think mine is more succinct.

    However, if you find sunsunmoon's more helpful to you, then fine.

    I disagree slightly with sunsunmoon only on one point: his insistence that would is used only with actions that "were repeated many times, again and again and again".

    As a young child I would hang my Christmas stocking without fail at the foot of my bed. When I started school and learnt that Santa Claus did not exist, I was devastated. I never hung it up again, even though my parents wanted to continue with the tradition.

    Here I think that would is perfectly acceptable. The stocking-hanging tradition lasted perhaps three years, but there were only three hangings in that period.

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