“Used to” and “would” are both used to refer to things in the past that are no longer true.

Used to” can be used to talk about past states that are no longer true or regular activities that no longer happen.

Would” can be used to refer to habitual or repetitive actions in the past.

* Please note: “Would” has numerous other uses. Here, I’m focusing on the definition that is similar to “used to.”

I used toI would
To refer to past states or habitsTo refer to past habitual actions
Not used to refer to states or situations
Not used in negative sentences and questions
More formal

I used to

1. “Used to” refers to a past state or situation that is no longer true or a past regular activity that no longer happens.
  • “This ring used to belong to my grandma.”
  • “I used to play tennis every weekend.”
Spelling: “Used to” or “Use to”?

A long time ago, this was used in the base form but is now used in the past tense form. The only time when it is used in the root form is when it is paired with “did” in the same sentence.

However this is usually the case for American English, and “did used to” is sometimes acceptable for British English.

  • Did you use to play basketball?”
  • “No, I didn’t use to play basketball, I used to play baseball.”

You may have also noticed that the pronunciation is the same in both the present and past tense form. This can sometimes create some confusion with its spelling, but remember, “used to” is usually used in its past tense form.

I would

1. “Would” can be used to refer to habitual or repetitive actions in the past

“Would” and “used to” are often interchangeable when talking about past repeated actions.

  • “She would play in the garden a lot.”
  • “I would always hit the ball over the fence.”
2. “Would” cannot be used to refer to past states or extended actions.

“Would” can only be used to refer to past actions that are repeated often. If there are any past states or extended actions or situations, “used to” should be used instead.

Here, stative verbs (e.g. live, hate, agree etc.) shouldn’t be used with “would.”

  • “We used to live in Singapore.”
    Not – “We would live in Singapore.”
  • “I used to hate waking up early in the mornings.”
    Not – “I would hate waking up early in the mornings.”

* Please note: Some verbs are both stative and dynamic, for e.g., “have” and “think.”

3. “Would” is not usually used in negative sentences and questions.

It often has a different meaning.

  • “I didn’t use to play tennis.”
    Not – “I wouldn’t play tennis.”
    This means I refused or was unwilling to rather than referring to a past regular activity.
  • “Did you use play tennis?”
    Not – “Would you play tennis?”
    Here, would” is the past tense of “will.” This question is asking if you’re willing to play tennis.
4. “Would” is considered more formal.

It is also often used in stories and can convey the idea of reminiscing about the past.

  • “As a child, I would wake up to the sounds of piano and the smell of freshly baked bread.”
  • “When my father was alive, he would drink a small glass of port after dinner.”

See also:
Differences: I’m used to or I’m used to
Modal verb: Would

Original posts: 3 September 2018