The things we did as children: What did you ‘used to do’?

Whether it was the things we did as children, the subjects we studied at school or even just a short-lived hobby, we continue to find ourselves talking about the things we ‘used to do’.

When using English, we apply ‘used to’ when talking about events in the past which we no longer continue to do in the present. A helpful way of learning ‘used to’, is to consider it as a ‘fixed expression’ and not a tense. A basic formula for constructing this language is listed below:

Subject + ‘used to’ + Infinitive + Object

He used to play tennis

Now let’s consider the following examples.

1) I used to play soccer when I was in high school
2) I used to take the bus to work but now I prefer to cycle

Sentence 1) shows us that we can use ‘used to’ before a reference of time (when I was in high school). This is a good example of language which describes the past. We know that at this moment in time that the speaker is no longer in school, which suggests he ‘gave up’ playing soccer after leaving or graduating. A similar example might be, ‘She used to smoke when she was a teenager’. In this sentence, the past auxiliary in was a teenager tells us the woman could be in her early 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s!

Sentence 2) proivdes us with information about a worker who used to take the bus. Following the object in this example, we see a linking word, ‘but’, which emphasizes the second part of the sentence. Other linking words might include those such as ‘however’ or ‘although’. Notice that in this second sentence, the main verb ‘prefer’ is used in the present tense. This indicates that at this moment in time, the person likes to cycle to work and no longer chooses to use the bus. A similar example to sentence 2) might be, ‘He used to like chocolate chip cookies, however, as an adult he prefers oatmeal and raisin’.

When forming a question about the past or the things we may have done in our childhood, the question form ‘did’ is inserted in front of the ‘subject’. Additionally, we take out the final ‘d’ when spelling the fixed expression, ‘used to’.

3) Did you use to own a cat?
4) Did you use to play with lego as a child?

There we have it. A basic introduction to using a style of language which tells others about our past. Get started today and ask your fellow classmates, what they ‘used to do?’