Grammar Used To vs. Use To: I Don’t Use Use To but I Used To |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Used To vs. Use To: I Don’t Use Use To but I Used To

The confusion over used to versus use to is largely due to the casual way we talk to each other. Unless the speaker makes a determined effort to say “used [pause] to,” the d at the end of “used” gets swallowed by the stronger t sound. Usually, when someone says something like “I used to read more,” anything from “use to” to “yoosta” is what we hear.

So is use to ever grammatical? Many authorities, including most of those found online, say use to is correct only in one special case: when it is preceded by did, did not, or didn’t, as in, Did you use to live nearby? or He didn’t use to be a writer.

In all other cases—i.e., most of the time—used to is the only option.

Use To or Used To

You’d think that would settle it. However, one finds dissension among eminent twentieth-century English scholars. In The Careful Writer (1983), Theodore M. Bernstein verifies did use to and didn’t use to, but adds that “employing use in this sense, though common in conversation, lacks grace in writing.” Roy H. Copperud concurs: in A Dictionary of Usage and Style (1967), he writes that with did and didn’t, “the form is use to, though such constructions are clumsy and best avoided.” But Bryan A. Garner, in A Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998), takes issue: “It shouldn’t be written didn’t use to.” And John B. Bremner, in Words on Words (1980), states flatly, “Some otherwise respectable authorities notwithstanding, the use of use to instead of used to is barbaric.”

The best advice is to rewrite. Instead of Did you use to live nearby? one might say Did you ever live nearby? Instead of He didn’t use to be a writer, how about He never used to be a writer. Such easy fixes are painless ways around a prickly mini-controversy.

Pop Quiz

Fix any of the following sentences that need it.

1. There are four times as many rocks than there were before.

2. A dollar or two are all it costs.

3. This phenomena is all too common.

4. He is one of those people who like opera.

5. It had already began when me and Juan arrived.

6. The decision is theirs’ to make.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. There are four times as many rocks as there were before.

2. A dollar or two is all it costs.

3. This phenomenon is all too common.

4. He is one of those people who like opera. CORRECT

5. It had already begun when Juan and I arrived.

6. The decision is theirs to make.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

10 responses to “Used To vs. Use To: I Don’t Use Use To but I Used To”

  1. Fred B. says:

    I love it!

    I have often noticed that many speakers of English as a second or third language have a difficult time with “I didn’t go” and intuitively think it should be “I didn’t went.” After all, it is in the past. I didn’t use to go must be correct, but I agree it is awkward.

    I have a different question. We say “I didn’t go.” If we add in used to, it is almost like an adverb modifying the verb to go and suggesting that we might go now or in the future.

    • Using used to with “I didn’t go” is another good example of when it may be better to rewrite in order to be clear about one’s meaning. In Britain one often hears “I used not to go,” or its contraction usedn’t or usen’t. Instead of seeing it as an adverb phrase, we see it as an idiomatic verb form.

  2. Georgia F. says:

    Loved the lesson! I avoid using “use” – “used” as much as possible in any given writing exercise. Now I may “just” start using “used” in sentences again.

  3. Kevin F. says:

    now it’s getting plain silly

    • What is “it” that’s getting plain silly? The topic of the newsletter? We didn’t think this subject was silly at all, nor did most other readers, judging from their reactions. Perhaps you are just not as nerdy as some of us. What are some topics you would like to see covered?

  4. kiara says:

    my question –
    she didn’t wanted to go there.
    she didn’t want to go there.
    which one is correct?

  5. Sally says:

    Thank you!
    I learned “used to” / didn’t used to” in 4th grade and have always used it. Only now am I hearing from many people and many grammar books and sites that it should be “used to“ but “didn’t use to”. But that uses a rule and then breaks it because of a negative.

    Yes, it’s awkward. But, hey – it’s English grammar! As far as I know, English grammar superimposes Latin terms on English, after the fact. So there will be things that don’t line up exactly right.

    Would you say “didn’t used to” may be what some refer to as a “fossil”?
    And that it may be contested more in American vs. British English?

    • says:

      As the post states, we do not recommend writing “didn’t used to.” If you are interested in some of the differences between American and British English, you might enjoy our four-part series on the subject, which includes a discussion of the two dialects’ grammar. If you would like to review the other articles, simply type “American vs. British English” in the search box at

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