ENGLISHMiscellaneous English

WOULD vs USED TO

Difference between WOULD and USED TO

Both WOULD  and USED TO have a very similar meaning. The only difference is that USED TO is used for PAST STATES as well as PAST REPEATED ACTIONS AND HABITS whereas WOULD is only used for PAST HABITS. WOULD is not used for past states; e.g.

PAST HABITS
(repeated past actions that don’t happen anymore)

1. I USED TO GO swimming every Thursday when I was at school.
= I WOULD GO swimming every Thursday when I was at school.

2. She USED TO SMOKE but she gave up a few years ago.
= She WOULD SMOKE but she gave up a few years ago.

3. When I was younger, I USED TO PAINT for 2 hours every day.
= When I was younger, I WOULD PAINT for 2 hours every day.

4. Every Sunday I USED TO GO to church.
= Every Sunday I WOULD GO to church.

INCORRECT: When I was younger, I would be a painter.
CORRECT: When I was younger, I used to be a painter.

[It’s a past state, so you can’t use WOULD here.]

PAST STATES
[Past states that are not true any more]

1. INCORRECT: We WOULD  LIVE in Mumbai when I was a kid.
CORRECT: We USED TO LIVE in Mumbai when I was a kid.

2. INCORRECT: There WOULD NOT BE a market there. When did it open?
CORRECT: There didn’t USE TO BE a market there. When did it open?

3. INCORRECT: WOULD you have a garden?
CORRECT: Did you USE TO HAVE a garden?

NOTE-I: Use of WOULD means that things happened many times in the past. This idea can also be expressed by using the Past Simple Tense; e.g.

Paintings would often be commissioned by the wealthy, and they would be hung in the home.
= Paintings were commissioned by the wealthy, and they were hung in the home.

NOTE-II: But if a past action happened ONLY ONCE, neither WOULD nor USED TO can be used; e.g.

INCORRECT: This painting USED TO / WOULD be commissioned in 1856.
CORRECT: This painting WAS commissioned in 1856.

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Maha Gupta

Maha Gupta

Founder of www.examscomp.com and guiding aspirants on SSC exam affairs since 2010 when objective pattern of exams was introduced first in SSC. Also the author of the following books:

1. Maha English Grammar (for Competitive Exams)
2. Maha English Practice Sets (for Competitive Exams)

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