English grammar - be/get used to

- - Be used to / Get used to


be used to + noun or gerund
get used to + noun or gerund


  1. We use be used to to say that a situation is not new or strange, or is no longer new or strange.
    • I've lived here for ten years now so I'm used to driving in the city.
    • He's not used to working at night so he sometimes falls asleep.
    • Are you used to the climate?
    • I wasn't used to working such long hours when I started my new job.
  2. We use get used to to say that an action or situation becomes less strange or new, or becomes more comfortable.
    • It took them a long time to get used to their new boss.
    • Have you got used to driving on the left yet?
    • She is getting used to waking up early for her new job.

Additional points

  1. We can modify be used to with adverbs.
    • I'm very used to his strange behaviour now.
    • She should be pretty used to living without electricity or running water by now.

Ideas for teaching be and get used to

How do you teach be/get used to? Add your idea ยป

Have you ever lived or worked abroad? If you have, you probably went through culture shock. I have spent a year teaching in Africa and two years teaching in Japan. I can tell you, it took me a long time to get used to some of the local customs.

(I then give some examples)
It was difficult getting used to having no electricity or running water when I was living in Africa.
In Japan, I had to get used to bowing all the time, every time I met another teacher or anyone to whom I had to show respect.
I had to get used to travelling in terribly crowded trains and being pushed on the train by a professional pusher with white gloves.
I had to get used to putting my hand in front of my mouth every time I smiled, as it is rude for women to show their teeth.
I had to get used to eating with chopsticks!

Students share their culture shock experiences. This can be widened to any new life experience, living alone after living with one's parents, moving from a village to a town, getting married, having a child. These can also be explored.

I teach "be used to" and "get used to" together, because "get used to" is much easier to explain straight after setting a context for "be used to".

I use the context of being used to driving on a different side of the road. So if you're British and are teaching in a country where they drive on the right, then you're in luck. Likewise, if you're American and are teaching where they drive on the left - you get the idea. (If not, just use "Jimmy" as your example, rather than yourself).

First, ask your students which side of the road they drive on in their country, and in the UK. Then ask them what it was like for you (or Jimmy) when you first arrived in (let's say) Spain. You want to elicit "strange" or "not normal".

Now tell them that you've been living in Spain for a year, and ask them if it is still strange. Here of course you want to elicit that now it's normal for you.

Okay, now that you've established that, draw a timeline on the board, with "PAST" on the left, and "NOW" on the right. Draw a cross to show when you arrived in Spain, and reiterate that it wasn't normal for you to drive on the right. You can even write "not normal" on the timeline. Reiterate also that now it's no longer strange (write normal on the timeline under NOW).

Then present the target language: "Now, it's normal for me to drive on the right. I'm used to driving on the right." When they're happy with this, repeat with the past: "One year ago, it wasn't normal for me to drive on the right, I wasn't used to driving on the right."

Give some other example at this stage, get them to come up with some of their own, until they're quite comfortable with using "be used to "in different tenses and situations. Then you can introduce "get used to". Refer to your timeline, and elicit or present the idea of a change between a year ago and now. Elicit or present this change as "get used to" - "During this time I got used to driving on the right".

And that's pretty much it for the presentation. I find it takes a lot of practice for students to be totally comfortable with it.

I teach 1st-year Japanese university kids. Generally, they've had a lot of prior grammar instruction but little practice in meaningful use. My task is to activate, or to establish links between patterns they know and how to create meaning.

For 'get used to', I introduce it by talking about my experiences of Japan. While doing so, I draw a timeline on the board. On the left-hand side of the timeline, I write 'Then' and on the right, 'Now'. As students know the past simple, example sentences like, 'When I first saw natto, I thought that it looked funny'. (I accompany this with the appropriate 'yucky' gesture, which usually gets a laugh.) I write 'natto' under 'Then'. I tell my students that 'I had natto three times last week. I like natto.' Under 'Now', 'Like natto' gets written. This forms the basis for the target sentence, 'I didn't like natto at first. Now, I'm used to eating it.'

I repeat this example with others. 'Hardly ever ate rice -- eat it every day' / 'use chopsticks rarely -- use chopsticks with every meal'. And so on.

As students are in their 1st year, they are often not used to university life in all respects. Some are living alone for the first time. I ask them to think about life as a high school student and life now as a university student. Students are asked to copy the timeline from the board and to add their own examples. They produce the target sentence a few times using their examples.

Then, students get in pairs to ask and answer the following question: "How has your life changed since coming to university?" They are encouraged to develop their dialogues into conversations.

When I teach be used to and get used to I prefer to share practical examples because it helps the trainees to understand the concept better. For example...

"Manish is from a village so obviously he is not accustomed to living in noisy and crowded areas... if he moves to a city he will get frustrated. Why? Because he is not used to living in a city."

Now the trainer can add more to that and continue further with the same example...
"If Manish starts living in the city he will get used to living there..."

So here I can help students to understand that when you get into a habit of doing something you use get used to along with the -ing form of the verb to express a habit of doing something.

For conversation based adults: When teaching be used to I usually introduce it in the lesson after used to (past). In the used to lesson we look at a familiar movie that has a Cinderella transformation. A current example that is internationally popular is Slumdog Millionaire. We talk about what the lead characters used to do (live in the slums) and what we imagine they do now (live in a mansion).
Jamal used to live in the slums, but now he lives in a big house.
Jamal used to have to steal food, but now he has plenty of money.
In the next class we talk about what the characters had to get used to and what they probably are used to now.
Jamal had to get used to the paparazzi. Now he is used to the media attention.
Especially with adults, they're usually pretty eager to talk about a film that they've just seen or that is very popular, and therefore the conversation isn't forced. In other words, it requires minimal creativity from the students. Depending on the grammar level, you can mix in verb forms.

You can teach "be used to" and "get used to" by talking about marriage and how it changes one's life. Show pictures representing the "habits" you have or had. E.g. I am used to getting up late, I'm not used to washing someone else's clothes, etc. Then, show what "new" things and activities they'll need to adapt to; for example "When you get married, you'll need to get used to your husband's habits.

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