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Natives & Tenses: Chapter 6. Past Habits: Would and Used to

[All information copyrighted to EnglishAdam.com]

Part 6. PAST HABITS: Would and Used to
Students are often surprised to learn about this very common of WOULD!!

When Grammar Rules list the USES of these two structures they say that they are both used for...

...PAST habits and actions.

Click me!

And that there is also a difference between them when used for PAST HABITS, namely....

Namely that WOULD is not used for PAST STATES.
So we can say: I would smoke every day when I was at university.
and also with the same meaning: I used to smoke every day when I was at university.
BUT we can only use USED TO for states.
For example, I used to live in that house when I was very young.
{WOULD is not possible here}

Click me!

And WHY is that?

The Whole Truth of the Meaning of the English Tense System.

Click me!

I said before that Tenses 'PRIMARILY' describe...


Click me!

But the COMPLETE ANSWER is that the Tenses describe...


Click me!

TIME is one type of 'Distance'. There are 2 more. Any idea what they might be?

FORMALITY (including the idea of being DIRECT/INDIRECT)
and REALITY ( in the sense of probability/possibility).

Click me!

Think about CAN and COULD. What is the difference between them?

Well... let's look at typical usage.

Click me!

Which of these two sentences is for the PAST and which is for the PRESENT?
I can do it.
I could do it.

So CAN is for the PRESENT. COULD is for the PAST.

Click me!

Which of these two sentences means PROBABLE and which is for IMPROBABLE?
If I can do it...
If I could do it...

Yes, CAN is for PROBABLE, it's a REALISTIC option. COULD is for IMPROBABLE, it is not likely to happen.

Click me!

Which of these two sentences is FORMAL or INDIRECT and which is INFORMAL / DIRECT?
Can you give me...?
Could you give me...?

So we use CAN when we are with friends and wish to be direct, and COULD when we are being FORMAL and INDIRECT.

Click me!

So we could say that when an action has NO DISTANCE, when it is PRESENT, PROBABLE and INFORMAL then we use the...


Click me!

So we could say that when an action has A DISTANCE, when it is PAST, IMPROBABLE and FORMAL then we use the...


Click me!

Or when we are being PERSONAL ME, NOW, REAL we use...

...the PRESENT.

Click me!

and when we are being FORMAL ME, PAST, UNREAL we use...

...the PAST.

Click me!

Ok... And what about the FUTURE?

Well... there isn't a FUTURE TENSE in English, there is WILL but that is not a tense. It is not conjugated. "Hmmmm...." you say.
So what is WILL?????
Let's have a look...

Click me!

What is a more FORMAL version of "WILL you do this for me?"?

"WOULD you do this for me?"

Click me!

What is a more IMPROBABLE version of "If you can, I WILL be happy."?

"If you could, I WOULD be happy"

Click me!

And when we start studying the FUTURE in PART 8, we will see that it is a RESPONSE.
[It is something that has no previous, the action is not before... DON'T PANIC!]
For example:
"When my mum arrives home I WILL make her a cup of tea."
[The tea will not be made before she comes home.]
And what is the PAST of that sentence?

"When my mum arrived home I WOULD make her a cup of tea."

Click me!

BUT it is a response in the...


Click me!

So WOULD is the distant version of WILL.
Just like COULD is the distant version of CAN.
So if WOULD represents a response to a situation, why can it not be used for STATES in the PAST?

Because a STATE implies something that was constant. Not something that was dependent on another action like WOULD implies.
Just as WILL/WOULD are used in CONDITIONAL sentences in the RESULT clause because they only happen if the IF-CLAUSE is true.

Click me!

[Sourced: EnglishAdam.com]

Test Your Knowledge!


Would and Used to: When Grammar Rules list the USES of these two structures they say that they are both used for...

Theory Test

Click to show


...PAST habits and actions.


Click to show


No specific notes on this question yet, sorry.



Practice Your Knowledge!

Cards coming soon!


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