The differences between USED TO and WOULD

The differences between USED TO and WOULD. Both USED TO and WOULD can both be used to talk about past actions. ‘Would’ can be used to speak about past actions as an alternative to the simple past or ‘used to’. We have looked at this already in Level B1, so if you haven’t seen this already, we recommend you start with this lesson. We have also look at the uses of ‘USED TO’ in Level B1, so if you are not sure of the basics, take a look at this lesson.

A quick reminder – both ‘would’ and ‘used to’ can be used to talk about past actions but we don’t use ‘would’ to refer to past states. For example, both of these sentences are correct:

  • I would walk to school everyday
  • I used to walk to school everyday

But only the first sentence below can be used:

  • I used to be a receptionist
  • I would be a receptionist

Although we can use WOULD to refer to past habits in questions or in negative statements, it’s not as common as USED TO.

Using DID to make your point stronger (normally only used in spoken English, not in writing)

  • I never went to the gym when I was younger, but I did used to do some exercise at home.
  • I never used to smoke regularly, though I did used to ask for a cigarette from a friend occasionally.

Using question tags (you can find out more about question tags here)

We normally make tags after USED TO with the auxiliary DIDN’T:

  • She used to live in Spain, didn’t she?