English Level: Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate
Language Focus: A review of use to, be used to, and get/become used to (includes practice exercises).
Worksheet Download: use-to-be-used-to-worksheet.docx (scroll down to study the exercises online)
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To Be Used to & Use to: The Difference in English Grammar
Many of my students have difficulty understanding the difference between be used to and use to. Do you know the difference? Try to complete these two sentences:
- When I was a child, I have blonde hair. Now, my hair is grey.
- Marco hot weather. He is from Spain. It's usually hot there.
[Click to Show Answers]
- When I was a child, I used to have blonde hair. Now, my hair is grey.
- Marco is used to hot weather. He is from Spain. It's usually hot there.
Did you get it right? If not, let me explain the meaning and grammar rules.
use to: describing a habit/condition in the past that is not true now
Form: use to + base verb
- "Mike used to live in France, so he can speak French."
- "Tara didn't use to like wine. But now she does."
Both examples describe something that was true or false but isn't anymore. When we say, "Mike used to live in France," we know that Mike does not live in France anymore because used to describes something that was true but is not true anymore. In the same way, in the second example, when we read that "Tara didn't use to like wine," we automatically know that now she does. When we use "use to", there is always a contrast between the past and present.
You cannot say: Mike used to live in France. He still does.
In this case, the past situation is the same as the present. 'Use to' is not used like this.
Common Mistake: "I didn't use
d to..." Remember that "use to" is a verb. The past negative is "didn't use to". This is a common writing mistake even among native English speakers. Be careful!
to be used to : describing something you are accustomed to
Form: [ BE verb ] + used to + [ noun / gerund ]
- Tina is used to her job. She has been working there for 6 months.
- My father wasn't used to eating with chopsticks, so it took him a long time to eat his noodles.
These sentences talk about being accustomed to an activity. If you are accustomed to something, that means you have experience with it so it is not new to you. I am accustomed to teaching English because I have been teaching for 8 years. This means I am used to teaching English. It is normal for me.
In the first example, Tina has been doing her job for 6 months, so it is not something new to her. She is used to it. In the second example, my father had no experience using chopsticks, which means he wasn't accustomed to it. So, it took him a long time to eat his food. He wasn't used to using them.
Note that we use be used to with an activity that requires experience to become comfortable doing, for example, driving a car, or speaking in a new language. We do not normally say, "I am used to drinking milk" because drinking milk is easy (it's not a challenge!) -- it requires no experience.) We do say, "I am used to using chopsticks" because chopsticks can be difficult to use (for Western people). It requires experience.
Are you used to using chopsticks?
Common Mistake: "I am used to speak English." This sentence is wrong. When a verb comes after 'used to', the structure is: "use to + ing". The sentence should be "I am used to teaching English." When someone makes this mistake, it is very confusing because it is similar to "I used to speak English", which has a completely different meaning.
Get / Become Used to
This expression has the same meaning but it focuses on the process of becoming accustomed to something. Here are two examples:
- It took John a long time to get used to living by himself. (or become used to living)
- Lisa is getting used to Canadian winters. (or is becoming used to)
In these sentences, the verbs get and become have the same meaning. The first example describes how long it took John to feel comfortable and get accustomed to living by himself. He probably had been living with his family for a long time, so when he moved into his own apartment, the situation wasn't normal for him. It took some time before the situation felt normal; it took him some time to get used to his new life. The focus here is on becoming (or getting) used to something.
The second example is also about the process of becoming accustomed. Lisa is not used to Canadian winters, but she is getting close. She is becoming used to them. The verb tense is in the present progressive because it is describing an action happening now -- now she is in the process of getting accustomed to it.
Exercises on Used to | Be Used to | Get/Become Used to
Do you think you understand? Let's see! Try these exercises.
Exercise #1 - Select the Correct Answer
- I live in the city of Toronto.I have also lived in Tokyo and London. I in cities. When I lived in Tokyo, I a lot of fish. I don't anymore though because there isn't a lot of fresh seafood in Toronto.
- When I moved to London, I the British accent. It took me about half a year to it. Now I like the British accent, even though I it.
- Roger an English teacher, but now he is a computer programmer. When he first started his new job, he his boss because he was always angry. It took him a while to him. Now, Roger likes him.
Exercise #2 — Fill in the blanks with used to, be used to, or get/become used to
Note: remember to write the verb and conjugate it.
- In the past, Paola's English (be) worse. Now it's much better.
- I (not/enjoy) studying when I was a child. Now I do.
- I (drive) in on snowy roads. I have done it for many years.
- People (communicate) more face to face in the past.
- Many seniors (not/use) cellphones. They don't have experience.
- John is not comfortable with his new job yet, but he is slowly it.
Exercise #3 — Fill in the blanks with used to, be used to, or get/become used to
- My children (stay) up late. I let them do it every night.
- Tina (be) nice. Now she's not very friendly.
- Australians (drive) on the other side of the road, so when they travel to North America, they might get confused.
- People (not/need) a helmet to ride a bicycle until the city passed a new law last year.
- It took Lisa a few months to (live) with her boyfriend.
- When John visited Saudi Arabia, it was very hot. He the heat, so it was hard for him.
I hope this was helpful. It may take a while to become used to these grammar patterns. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
- Pair Work Activity: Use to / Be Used to / Get Used to (for teachers)
- The Difference: Other and Another
- The Difference: So and Such
- The Difference: So and Too
- The Difference: Wish and Hope
- Matthew Barton (copyright / Creator of Englishcurrent.com