This article is based on a worksheet I do with my students. Normally I give them the worksheet and then explain the answers, so let’s do the same here.
Write one name in each space. It’s pretty heavy on stereotypes. If you want to complain about these stereotypes, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now read the grammar bit and see if you want to change your answers.
The Grammar Bit
Used to Do
These are things you did in the past but don’t do any more. (Past habit.)
Or a state that is no longer true. (Past state.)
A Quick Aside About States
‘State’ sounds complicated but it isn’t. Think of them as on/off situations. Or yes/no situations.
- The light is on. The light is off.
- Yes, I like pizza. No, I don’t like pizza.
- I am British. (I’m not British.) I am a teenager. (I’m not.) I’m not an eskimo. (I am.) I drink Ovomaltine. (I don’t.)
You can use ‘used to’ to talk about changes in states.
- I used to like pizza, but now I don’t.
- Anthony Hopkins used to be British, but now he has an American passport.
Used to Do: Examples
- I used to eat meat (past habit), but now I’m a vegetarian.
- I used to be a vegetarian (past state), but now I’m vegan.
- I didn’t use to eat meat, but now I eat burgers every night.
- I used to live in China, and I used to use chopsticks every day. (But now that I’ve left China I rarely use chopsticks.)
- When I lived in China, I used to have Tai Chi lessons. (But I stopped having those lessons when I left.)
- I used to go to this school. (But now I don’t.)
Used to Doing
This grammar is used to measure how normal something is to you.
You use ‘be’ or ‘get’, plus ‘used to’. Here’s the fun bit: in this structure the ‘to’ is actually a PREPOSITION so you have to use a gerund (-ing) if you follow it with a verb.
- I’m not used to speaking German. (So when I try to speak German I sound like a very stupid child.)
- I’m used to being laughed at. (People laugh at me – that’s normal.)
- I’m getting used to living alone. (My girlfriend fell in a hole and can’t get out. That was 3 months ago. Living alone isn’t 100% normal, but I’m getting there.)
My Mother’s New Phone
Let’s go deep in one example. My mother got an iPhone quite early – I suppose it was around 2007. The first time I saw it, I thought it was completely stupid. I had a Nokia 3310, the best phone ever, and this black slab with one button was SO WEIRD to me.
5 minutes before seeing an iPhone: I love my Nokia! I’m completely used to using it. I can send an SMS to someone with the phone in my pocket. Not even a single typo! It’s like an extension of my hand. I love it.
My mum says, ‘here’s my new phone’: What the hell is that? It only has one button! What is going on? I’ll never get used to using one of those.
Mum says, ‘try it’: I press the only button, and there are all these colourful squares on the screen. What do you DO? What is it? What’s the point?
5 minutes later: I have learned how to open and close apps. But I still don’t see the point of it. I’ve got a little more used to holding it in my left hand and tapping at it with my right hand, but still. It’s very strange and I don’t like it.
About 5 years later: I’ve got a Nokia 3330 and it’s fine. I don’t want a new phone. I go on a date. I meet her at the meeting point. Neither of us knows exactly where the bar is. My plan is to just walk around until we find it. She whips out her iPhone and opens the map. We walk towards the bar. Holy crap! That’s amazing.
About 3 days after that: I’ve just bought an iPhone and turned it on. I’m still used to using a Nokia, so this iPhone thing is all very strange. If you’re under 20 there’s no way you can imagine how strange it feels to hold a phone without a keypad built in.
1 day after that: I’ve learned quickly, and now I’m a semi-professional iPhone user. I’m not 100% used to it – but it already feels like a natural extension of my hand.
1 year after that: I’m totally used to using the iPhone, and picking up my old Nokia is a very strange experience. I’m not used to using a keypad anymore.
- to be used to something is for when something is totally normal to you.
- to get used to something is the process of it becoming normal.
Worksheet Answers and Explanations
- Hermann used to be a surgeon. (But now he’s a farmer.)
- Heskey and Budokan used to eat fish every day. (Heskey because he’s an eskimo and that’s his main source of food, and Budokan because Japanese people love seafood.)
- Budokan used to live in fear of Godzilla. (Because Godzilla attacks Tokyo several times a year.)
- Hermann and Budokan used to live in a block of flats. (You can see them in the left-hand side images.)
- Budokan used to live in Toyko. (In Japan.)
- Heskey used to sleep in an igloo. (A house made of ice.)
- Heskey used to have a pet seal. (Seals go ‘oww oww oww’ and play with balls.)
- Hermann used to live near Heidi Klum. (When they both lived in Germany.)
- Hermann quickly got used to working outside. (As a surgeon he worked inside, and as a farmer he works outside. It became normal for him in a short time.)
- Heskey can’t get used to the heat. (It’s cold where he’s from, but now it’s hot, and he doesn’t like it. He thinks he won’t ever like it.)
- Heskey quickly got used to riding a camel. (Didn’t take him long to learn about riding camels.)
- Budokan is getting used to the interesting weather. (One reason the British talk about the weather all the time is because it’s seriously crazy. But Budokan is adjusting to it very well.)
- Hermann found it difficult to get used to hearing Swiss German. (Normal German is quite different from Swiss German. It’s very strange for Germans who move to Switzerland. It took Hermann a couple of years, but now he finds Swiss German totally normal.)
- Budokan will never get used to seeing so many fat people. (62% of Brits are overweight. In Japan fewer than 4% of people are obese.)
- Heskey is getting used to working near the Sphynx. (In Egypt. He’s been there for a year but it still makes him smile when he sees it.)
- Hermann had to get used to working with animals. (Now that he’s a farmer it’s important for him to deal with animals. So he had to become accustomed to them.)
- Budokan is finding it hard to get used to speaking English all day. (Some people adapt to being in a new linguistic environment very quickly; for others it takes a long time.)
- Budokan is used to answering questions about ninjas. (If you ask people in England to name 2 things about Japan they will say ‘paper walls and ninjas’.)
- Heskey thinks he will never gets used to eating sand sandwiches. (This is a joke. People in Egypt don’t really eat sandwiches with a sand filling.)