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I agree, particularly on the hypercorrection point. To my ears “I used not to play football” sounds stilted. I think I would myself always use the form with “do”.

Interestingly, Pam Peters, in the Cambridge Guide to English Usage, reports that “in BNC data the form 'didn’t used to' - which you find clearly incorrect - outnumbers 'didn’t use to' by 3:2. She concludes her article by saying that, “All this shows the erosion of the auxiliary use of “used to” (as, for example, in "I used not to play football"), now more or less confined to affirmative statements.”

Peter Harvey

That's fair enough, but I look at it from the point of view of someone who has to explain all this to people learning English, so I prefer some semblance of logic. It's hard enough explaining that I have a red car and I have got a red car mean exactly the same...

Brian Barder

"He didn't used to excel at making you like him." -- Lesley White, "Campbell's Secrets", Sunday Times News Review, 8 July 07.

To my ear and eye, "He didn't use to excel...." would have seemed almost equally awkward, if not downright ugly. The formulation which comes naturally to me -- but apparently not to anyone else! -- would have been "He used not to excel...". Doesn't sound in the least stilted to me.

Well, there you go.


Brian Barder

For two contrary views (so far), please see the first two comments on http://www.barder.com/ephems/689

FWIW, my wife is also in the "I used not to" camp, along with me (!).



Can anyone please tell me the about origins of "used to" and what preceded it?


Peter Harvey


Thanks for your interest and apologies for the delay ... but this is Spain in August.

This 'used to' comes from the meaning of 'use' as a habit or custom, so 'I used to play football' means that it was my habit to do so. This is similar to the Spanish 'solía', except that in English 'used to' can go with stative verbs: 'I used to live in Germany'. 'Solía' can't: *'Solía vivir en Alemania' is impossible.

The passive form 'to be/get used to' also has the same origin: to have/acquire the custom of doing something, or often to adapt to circumstances. As you probably know, these two forms are very confusing for students.

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