Different meanings of Used to
Have you heard the term ‘used to’ and wondered what it meant? It can have two very different meanings. Read on to find out what these are and how to use them.
We use the expression ‘used to’ to refer to:
- past habits
- finished long-term situations
I used to do night shifts every month. But in my new company I only work during the day.
In order to create a phrase with ‘used to’, you simply put it after a subject and in front of a verb in its infinitive form:
Subject + used to + verb
We used to have meetings every day.
To make questions and negatives with used to we use did and didn’t. For example:
Did you use to do overtime at the factory?
We didn’t use to do any overtime.
Here are some more examples:
She used to be a sales rep. Now she’s the Regional Manager.
Our offices used to be in the city center. Now we’ve relocated to a quieter area in the suburbs.
I used to have a blackberry. Now I’ve got an iPhone.
They used to distribute products themselves, but now they pay another company to do it.
It didn’t use to be difficult to find a job in this country. It’s become much harder recently.
Did you use to speak English a lot in your previous company?
Be/get used to
The second expression that includes the words ‘used to’ has quite a different meaning:
- Be used to – the state of being accustomed/familiar with something
- Get used to – becoming accustomed/familiar with something
The commute to work is long but I’m used to it now. = I’ve done this action for some time and it’s normal for me.
By changing the tense of the verb ‘be’ or ‘get’, you can use this expression in the past, present or future. For example,
When I started this job, I wasn’t used to working in a team.
After a few weeks I got used to it.
Now I’m used to working in a team and I don’t like working on my own any more!
We make questions and negative forms in the same way we normally do with the verbs ‘be’ and ‘get’, depending on the tense. For example,
Are you used to doing long hours? (Present simple question)
He isn’t used to typing quickly. (Present simple negative)
Have you got used to flexitime? (Present perfect question)
We haven’t got used to our new offices yet. (Present perfect negative)
As you can see, the verb that follows be/get used to is always in the -ing form. The alternative is to use a noun or pronoun. Here are some other examples,
Have you got used to our IT software yet?
Partially, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it in the next few weeks.
I wasn’t used to working from home but now I’ve got used to it and love it.
The receptionists are used to speaking in English because we have foreign visitors almost every day.
I’m used to driving long distances because I work as a regional service technician.
Pat isn’t used to making presentations in front of a lot of people, but I expect he’ll get used to it with practice.
These two expressions are very common in English and are therefore really helpful to know and use. Try making a few examples regarding your own life and job. For example, what did you have to get used to doing when you started your job? And what did you used to do before your current occupation? Practice further by doing this fun quiz.