English grammar - used to and would

- - Used to and would


Affirmative: used to + infinitive
Negative: didn't use to + infinitive
Question: did + subject + use to


  1. We use used to to talk about habitual or regular actions or states in the past that are now finished.
    • I used to have a dog.
      I had a dog in the past but I don't have a dog now
    • I used to play football every weekend but I don't have time now.
    • Did you use to go swimming when you were at school?
    • I didn't use to like action films, but I love them now.
    • I never used to like spinach.
      but now I eat it every day
  2. We also use would to talk about habitual actions in the past, but not to talk about past states.
    • When I was young I used to go fishing with my father every summer - Correct
      When I was young I would go fishing with my father every summer - Correct
    • She used to have a house in the country - Correct
      She would have a house in the country - Incorrect


(See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below)

We use the weak form of to in used to
  • I used to cook: /juːstə/

Ideas for teaching used to and would

How do you teach used to and would? Add your idea »

I ask students to draw a picture of themselves five years ago and now. But, before that, I show them my own drawings so they can laugh a little and through this, they feel motivated to draw; it doesn't matter if they don't have the ability to do it, just like me!
After they draw their pictures, I explain to them what my activities and routines were five years ago, things I used to do and that I don't do anymore.
I have a difficult class and I learned that these kinds of activities are good for them to feel more secure and to pay attention for more than 5 minutes.

I divide the board into two sides:
1st side:
Job: postman
Salary: .....
Place of work: Post office
Means of transport: on foot... etc.

2nd side:
I explain that Mark has become a rich man because he won a lot of money
Job: Businessman
Lottery ticket: 990 million
Place of work: His own office
Means of transport : Car

Then I present the new structure 'used to' by writing 2 or 3 sentences on the board.

I usually teach "used to" by telling the students they have to talk about an old love. For example:
I used to love Peter, we used to eat ice cream in the park, and we used to go cycling...

I usually write some bubbles with topics like food, drink, color, games, tv programs, words related to their habits or what they like nowadays.
I ask two Ss for each bubble:
What color do you like? What do you like drinking? or what is your favorite drink?
After a while talking, ask them to close their eyes and play a song that is well known that can remind them of their childhood. In Mexico, the most popular ones are Cri cri's (Francisco Gabilondo's) songs. So I guess in your own country there may be a popular singer or special song that you used to listen to when you were children - use it!
After that, I introduce the new structure by telling them what I used to eat, drink, what my favorite color used to be and so on... Then, do the same process you did at the beginning but with the new structure.

I bring in pictures of myself and family members from now and the past, and discuss how we used to look, what we used to do, etc. compared to how we look, what we do now. Students seem to like the voyeurism aspect of peeking into their teacher's life!
Ke Aiwe

Teacher divides the class into four teams and selects one member of each team to be an old man/woman. Each group explains what he/she used to do in the past. Other members of the group can help him/her with the creation of the story or become other characters.

I ask my students to divide their sheet into their present day habits and their habits 10 years ago. Using those ideas, I give them examples like:
10 years ago, I used to go to elementary school...

I teach "used to" by asking my students about their grandma or grandpa. Then I ask them what kind of music they listened to and also compare music then and now.

I bring in a variety of portraits and have my ss choose one and create a new identity based on that portrait. I ask them to write personal information about their new identity. Then I ask them to go around the class and talk with their classmates. They can introduce themselves (new identity) and talk about their past identity. For example, I´m a teacher, but I used to be a business person. They can also ask questions. Greetings from Bolivia!

Share your idea

If you have a good way of introducing or practising this grammar point, tell us about it here...

Optional - we won't publish it
We need to confirm you are human
  SpinnerPlease wait...

Got a question?

Try our grammar discussion forum for further help.

Advertise here

TEFL Toulouse - 4 week TEFL courses in FranceCertificate in TESOL - Global EnglishTEFL Org UKITI Istanbul - CELTAITEFLIGo TEFLBlabmateThe English Club, RussiaCCELTITTT - TEFL courses worldwideUniversity of Toronto TEFL OnlineOntesol - Teaching the world to teachCELTA and Delta - AVO Bell, Sofia, BulgariaTEFL Worldwide Prague - TEFL CoursesPGLSkyline Global SolutionsEF English First XianTEFL HeavenLove TEFLVia Lingua - TEFL Courses in Mexico, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Russia, Italy and TurkeyThe Language House - TEFL Courses in PragueOxford TEFL - Teach English worldwidei to i TEFL coursesThe Language House TEFLCIETeach the WorldEnglish Work

Most shared...

Worksheet thumbnail

Grammar worksheets

Downloadable grammar worksheets and activities

TEFL activities blog

Grammar lesson plans, activities and ideas for your classes...

© 2014 Eslbase. All rights reserved

Read about how we use cookies

Follow Eslbase on