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What’s the difference between used to, be used to and get used to?
Phrases with used to are often confused due to their similarity, but they actually have quite different meanings.
Master the difference between used to, get used to and be used to with Lingolia, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.
I used to live in Germany but I moved to the UK last year.
The culture shock was difficult at first, but I’m used to the British lifestyle now — I am even getting used to having milk in my tea!
My English never used to be very good, but now I’m used to speaking it every day.
Some of the local accents can be hard to understand, but you get used to it.
used to + infinitive
The structure used to + infinitive talks about:
- repeated past habits and actions that we no longer do. Compare:
- When I was a child, I used to go to Disneyland.
- I was there often – used to shows us that this was a repeated action in the past.
- When I was a child, I went to Disneyland.
- I was there once.
- states or circumstances that are no longer the same as before
- My English used to be terrible.
- My English wasn’t very good for a long time, but now it is better.
The structure used to does not express one-time actions nor can we use it with concrete past time markers (yesterday, last month, last week …).
To say when exactly something happened or to talk about a one-time occurrence, we use the simple past.
- I moved to the UK last year.
I used to move to the UK last year.
The used to + infinitive structure only talks about the past, there is no present, progressive or future form.
To talk about present habits, use the present simple with adverbs of frequency (always, usually etc.).
- I don’t drive, so I usually take the bus to work.
I used to take the bus
- I didn’t use to speak English before I lived here.
- Did you use to live in an apartment before this house?
Note: you will hear both didn’t used to and did ... used to (i.e. with a -d at the end) in spoken English, however this is considered incorrect and should not be used in written English or in exams.
We often use never to form negatives:
- My English never used to be very good.
We usually put adverbs before used to:
- I always used to struggle with the local accents.
would for past habits
We can also use would + infinitive to express past habits. It has the same meaning as used to, but is considered slightly more formal.
- Every summer we would go to Disneyland. = Every summer we used to go to Disneyland.
Note: used to and would for past habits are not always interchangeable:
- Would + infinitive only expresses past habits, not past states. This means it’s typically used with action verbs, not stative verbs.
Used to can be used with all types of verbs.
- We would play football in the garden. (action verb)
- I used to love football. (stative verb)
- but not:
I would love football.
- Would + infinitive always appears with an establishing past time marker (every summer, when I was younger …)
Used to can stand alone.
- When I was a teenager I would dye my hair crazy colours.
- I used to dye my hair crazy colours.
- but not:
I would dye my hair
- We don’t use would + infinitive in the negative or question forms to refer to past habits.
Used to appears in all forms.
- Did you use to work here?
Would you work here?
get used to, be used to + noun/gerund
The structures get used to and be used to indicate familiarity with something.
Get used to signals that something is in the process of going from difficult/new to easy/familiar.
- I am even getting used to having milk in my tea!
- Drinking tea with milk is becoming more normal for me.
Be used to indicates that this process is completed; the speaker is fully accustomed to and familiar with the new thing or habit.
- I’m used to speaking English every day.
- This is normal for me.
Unlike used to + infinitive, get used to and be used to can be conjugated in any tense.
- I am even getting used to having milk in my tea! (present progressive)
- You will get used to it. (future)
- I got used to speaking English fairly quickly. (past simple)
- I’m even getting used to having milk in my tea. (gerund)
- You get used to it. (pronoun)
- I am used to the British lifestyle. (noun)