The Problem of “used to” and “to be used to”

These two expressions cause many problems for students because they appear to be similar, but in fact they have very different meanings and uses.

“Used to” is a semi-auxiliary and expresses actions that a person did in the past, but no longer does at the present.  For example:

I used to swim every day

– Solia nedar cada dia.

– Solia nadar todos los dias.

My father used to live in London

– El meu pare solia viure a Londres.

– Mi padre solía vivir en Londres.

And “to be used to” means to be accustomed to doing something.  For example:

I am used to swimming every day

Estic acostumat a nedar cada dia.

Estoy acostumbrado a nadar cada día.

My father is used to living in London

El meu pare està acostumat a viure a Londres.

– Mi padre está acostumbrado a vivir en Londres.

Apart from the meaning, one of the biggest differences is the construction of negative and interrogative sentences. “Used to” goes with the auxiliaries do or did.

Did you use* to have so many problems?

Solies tenir tants problemes?

– ¿Solías tener tantos problemas?

I didn’t use* to like spinach

No solia agradar-me l’espinac

No solía gustarme la espinaca

*(Notice that “used” changes to “use” after the auxiliary)

“To be used to” goes with the auxiliary “to be” to form negative sentences and qüestions.

I am used to having so many problems

Estic acostumat a tenir tants problemes.

– Estoy acostumbrado a tener tantos problemes.

The form doesn’t change in qüestions and negative sentences, but note that the expression is followed by the gerund.  This is because the “to” is a preposition, unlike “used to.”  Semi-auxiliaries are rigid structures and cannot be separated (have to, want to, going to).

I am not used to having so many problems

No estic acostumat a tenir tants problemes.

– No estoy acostumbrado a tener tantos problemes.

Are you used to having so many problems?

Estàs acostumat a tenir tants problemes?

– ¿Estas acostumbrado a tener tantos problemas?

The lesson to be learned from this—in addition to the grammar, of course—is never get used to mistakes that you used to make.

 

Written by Mike Dean Alger for Aston School

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