would to talk about past

How to use ‘would’ to talk about the past

Lesson by Kerin.

Post updated Mar 2022

Learn how to use would to talk about past habits and review the form used to 

Kerin & Elisa

Can you catch Elisa using ‘would’?

We all know ‘would‘ is a complex verb and can be used for many things, such as in a conditional sentence or as a modal verb … but did you know we can also use it to talk about past habits, especially when we reminisce?!

Listen to this snippet from our podcast lesson How to Talk about Fashion in Advanced English

How many times do you hear her using 

  • used to?
  • would?

Past habits: past simple, used to and would

Read the extract below. Did you catch Elisa saying used to and would?

would to talk about past
  • The past simple is used to describe states and habits in the past:
  • when I was a young girl
  • I already knew what I liked

We use used to + infinitive to refer to regular repeated actions rather than a specific point or period in time

Compare:

  • I always used to argue with my mum over outfits! (not argued with my mum)
  • went to France last year (not I used to go to France last year)

We use used to + infinitive to contrast the past with the present

  • This restaurant used to be a cinema.
  • I used to work 14 hours a day, but now I only work 8.

Would can replace used to when referring to repeated past actions and events, but NOT STATES

  • Yeah, ‘cause, she would pull out all these really girly clothes
  • Yeah, ‘cause, she used to pull out all these really girly clothes
  • Exactly! And I would be like, ‘No mum!
  • Exactly! And I used to say, ‘No mum!
  • We used to live in Edinburgh (right!)
  • We would live in Edinburgh (wrong!)
  • I used to like romantic comedies (right!)
  • I would like romantic comedies (wrong!)

Further notes: advanced grammar ‘would’ & ‘used to’

Look at these sentences based on the interview with Sir Bobby Charlton from our course Improve comprehension of native speakers: learn regional accents & study natural speech

  • I remember when I used to go and watch Newcastle United playing.
  • Footballers didn’t use to get paid very much, not like today

Note the negative form: didn’t use to.

You can also say used not to but this is rarer.

Didn’t used to is usually considered incorrect.

  • You would go home, and you would do a little bit of some recreation … and you’d play the game on a Saturday

Would is very common in written language and often occurs in reminiscences, like the example above.  When we speak, it’s common to contract the verb: … you’d play the game on a Saturday 

POSITION OF ADVERBS

We usually put adverbs before used to, but after would:

  • never used to get up early on a Sunday.
  • always used to sleep in. 
  • I would never get up early on a Sunday.
  • I’d always sleep in.

 


Kerin Goodall Founder English Digital Academy

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