3.14. Grammar review. What is the difference between the following sentences?
‘I’m used to drinking eight pints of lager every night’ and ‘I used to drink eight pints of lager every night.’
Who is the alcoholic? The first. Who is the reformed alcoholic? The second. USED TO + GERUND means ‘to be accustomed to’ and can be used in the past, present and future. It is, therefore, very different from USED TO + INFINITIVE which can only talk about past habitual actions, not single actions.
‘I’m used to drinking eight pints of lager every night’ means that the person usually drinks eight pints every night and is physically accustomed to doing this. This person clearly needs help.
‘I used to drink eight pints of lager every night’ shows that this person was in the habit of drinking, but has since stopped.
The grammar for these structures is a little confusing for native speakers as well as foreign learners. So pay attention. In its positive form you can say USED TO + VERB I used to eat tinned food every day. The negative and interrogative forms of this sentence are logically DIDN’T USE TO + VERB and DID YOU USE TO + VERB ‘I didn’t use to have very good skin.’ ‘Didn’t you use to go St. Mary’s Secondary Modern School?’ Mistakes such as ‘I didn’t used to...’ (conjugating the infinitive) are so common among natives that they have become acceptable in modern English. This is a particularly irregular structure. The structure differs from place to place. In many places such as Ireland the negative form is USEN’T TO + VERB and in works by some distinguished British authors include structures like USED YOU TO + VERB ? or USED NOT TO + VERB
Confusing? Yes. But these are unimportant mistakes. This is an area in which natives make mistakes too, so consequently a little error won’t be that bad. Some mistakes in English are bad, because they cause a lot of confusion, and the speaker won’t know what you are talking about. This is what happens when you put the gerund after ‘used to’ instead of the infinitive. And vice-versa. So we need to check the grammar for USED TO + GERUND. This structure is most commonly used after ‘to be’ or ‘to get’. In positive sentences we say ‘He is used to getting up early.’ The negative is ‘He isn’t used to getting up early’ and the interrogative, ‘Is he used to getting up early.’ This is completely different in meaning and structure from, ‘He used to get up early.’ ‘He didn’t use to get up early.’ ‘Did he use to get up early.’ You will need to practice this a lot as all forms are very similar and are all very commonly used.
What is the correct pronunciation of ‘used to’? The ‘d’ is pronounced /t/ and as the next consonant is a /t/ sound only one is sounded. /ju:stu:/ The two are pronounced as one word.