Archive for May 5, 2010

the difference between words: use to and be used to


Last week, one of my students asked me to explain the difference between “use to” and “be used to”; so that is what I’d like to write about today.

In English, when we say we used to do something, it means that we did something on a regular basis in the past, but that we no longer do it. For example:

When I was a kid, I used to watch cartoons every Saturday morning.

I used to smoke, but I quit about two years ago.

I used to have to get up at 5:00 am but, with my new job, I don’t have to get up until 8:00 a.m.

We can also use the negative form to talk about things we didn’t do in the past but that now we do. For example:

I didn’t use to drink much, but lately I’ve been drinking a lot.

I didn’t use to have to go on business trips, but now I do.

However, when we say we are used to doing something, it means that we have become accustomed to something that we didn’t like or that was difficult for us in the beginning. For example:

When I lived in Korea, eating the spicy food was difficult for me, but I got used to it.

I really hate the crowded trains in Tokyo. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to riding them during rush hour.

A: Getting up early for my new job is really hard for me.

B: Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it eventually.

So, as you can see, “use to” is followed by the base form of a verb, and “be used to” is followed by the -ing form of a verb or by the pronoun “it”. It’s very important in English not to get these two expressions mixed up. I hope that answers my student’s question.

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