This is a page devoted to understanding how we use the tenses in English. Watch each video (you can scroll down to see which ones you want to see first) and then do some written exercises to make sure you’ve understand the important points. Good luck!



1. Both ‘used to’ and ‘would’ can be used to describe repeated actions in the past.  They can be used interchangeably:

I used to go fishing with my father when I was young.
I used to have 2 dogs. Every time the mailman came, they would bark.
My grandfather would always read to me after dinner.
Students would get angry whenever the teachers gave them a pop quiz.

2. Be careful! We use the simple past to talk about SINGLE specific actions in the past as those that refer to historical events:

On September 11, 2001, hijackers bombed the World Trade Center.

3. ‘Used to’ can also be used to describe past states (usually in contrast of present states), with verbs such as ‘be’, ‘have’ and ‘live’. For example:

I used to live in California. (But now I live in France.)
He used to have long hair. (Now he has really short hair.)
This building used to be a hotel. (Now it’s an apartment complex.)

4. ‘Would’ cannot normally be used in such sentences, unless the state is repeated and qualified by an adverb such as ‘often’. For example:

In the 20th century, women would often have more than 2 children.

This suggests that the state was repeated several times over a period of years, but it is a highly restricted use of ‘would’.

BE CAREFUL! We often used ‘would‘ in the contracted form: Every time I went to the beach, I’d take along my radio. I’d listen to the radio while sunbathing on the beach.

5. If you refer to a specific period in the past, use the simple past: ‘Used to’ cannot be used to refer to specific restricted periods in the past. For example:

In September 2001 I went to China.
DO NOT CONFUSE ‘USED TO’ AND ‘WOULD’ which are past modals with the expression “to be used to something/doing something” and “to get used to something/doing something”
I am used to speaking British English but now I’m getting used to the American accent.

In conclusion ‘used to’ is used for past states and sometimes repeated actions or habits in the past and ‘would’ is restricted to repeated actions in the past very often punctuated with frequency adverbs (often, always, every time, etc.). Watch the following video to understand better and to see more examples:

Sing along with the late Karen Carpenter (one of America’s best vocalists) as she sings one of her greatest songs “It’s Yesterday Once More” to get a better feeling of the use of ‘used to’ and ‘would’:

Now try these exercises from various ESL sites to test your comprehension:

1. ToLearnEnglish.com: Used To/Would

2. AnglaisFacile (for French learners): Used to/Would

3. English Daily Workout: Used to/Would

4. Used to and Would Exercises: Fill In Drop Down

5. English Exercises: True or False Statements

6. English Grammar Secrets: Mix and Match sentences; Put the Words In The Correct Order; complete the sentences; complete the sentences 2

6. EMU.ed: Used to/Would Gap-fill exercises

7. Detail English.com: Find the errors “Simple Past,” “Used to” or “Would Always.

8. English Club: Used to or Be used to doing?

9. Learn English Today: Used to or Be/Get used to doing?

10. ESL Lounge: Used to or Would?

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