Scholars often have difficulties with the forms “used to do” and “used to doing.” These terms refer to a situation or a habit that occurred over a period of time in the past.
We used to live in Cambridge. (Now we live in London.)
I used to get up at 6 a.m. (Now I get up at 7.30)
Robert used to play rugby. (He doesn’t play rugby anymore.)
I didn’t use to like classical music. (But now I do.)
If we were to present this as a question, we would use the word “did.” Negative sentences will use “didn’t”.
Did you use to believe in Father Christmas?
Didn’t people use to complain about the noise?
We don’t use this form to talk about habits or situations in the present. For this we have the Present Simple tense.
I start work at 9 a.m NOT I use to start work at 9 a.m
Why do you get up so early? NOT Why do you used to get up so early?
This should not be confused with the expressions get used to and be used to.
These expressions can be used in many tenses and mean adapt to or become familiar with. In other words, something that seemed strange or different at first seems less strange or quite normal now.
The to here is a preposition, so can be followed by a noun, a pronoun or a gerund (an -ing form).
You’ll soon get used to British Life.
I’m getting used to eating bacon and eggs in the morning.
In a month you’ll be used to speaking and thinking in English.
In cases where we can’t put a noun immediately after to, the to must be part of an infinitive. (We can't say, for example, "I want to some food." We can say "I want some food" or "I want to eat something.")
If we can put a noun immediately after to, the to must be a preposition. In this case, it can also be followed by a pronoun or a gerund.
A number of adjectives are naturally followed by the preposition to, indicating a focus of attention.
I’m not accustomed to eating so late. (Accustomed being a formal version of “used”.)
Simon is addicted to marathon running. (Cannot stop; is compulsive.)
Ken is always resistant to making an effort. (To show resistance is to work against something.)
A number of nouns (some of them related to the adjectives listed above) can also be followed by the preposition to, also indicating the focus of attention.
There’s no alternative to selling the business while we still can. (No other choice but to sell the business)
Their reaction to me losing the contract was immediate and dramatic. (The way they acted after losing the contract)
This winter weather will increase your vulnerability to catching a cold. (How weak they are to the cold.)
Verbs and other common expressions followed by the preposition to are common.
They soon adapted to using the new software. (They soon because used to using the new software.)
She devoted her life to fighting injustice. (She was committed to be just.)
We object to paying so much tax. (We disagree with the amount of tax we are paying.)
Note again that in all these cases, the gerund could be replaced with a noun.
We are committed to this policy.
He confessed to the crime.
I prefer football to rugby.
The gerund, like a noun, can be used with a possessive, usually changing the meaning of the sentence. (This also happens after other prepositions, and in other cases in English.)
I’m used to coming home very late.
The were opposed to the council’s building another shopping centre.
Is there any alternative to this company’s downsizing?
More often, however, particularly in spoken English, we replace the possessive with a simple object, and the possessive pronoun (my / your / his / her / its / our / their) with an object pronoun (me / you /him / her / it / us / them):
I’m used to him coming home very late.
They were opposed to the council building another shopping centre.
Is there any alternative to the company downsizing?
Otherwise, the test - can you put a noun after to? then you can also put -ing - is a reliable guide to English usage.
Written by Sam Kearns, Community Manager.