I have had this question since I learned about there to be (which was a long time ago), and I know there used to be means something that used to exist, i.e, it no longer exists, for instance: There used to be a house across my apartment = One house used to exist, but no longer does, it's something that existed in the past, but not anymore. So, based on the facts that were mentioned, every there to be has a negative form and interrogative, therefore, what's there used to be's ?

My question has been identified as a possible duplicate of another one, but the one suggered isn't the same as mine, I'm talking about the verb there to be, the other question is about the verb "used to", both questions are different from each other.

  • @StoneyB I'm not talking about the verb used to I know it, but I'm talking about There used to be, this comes from the there to be, and it's different from the singular verb used to. – Davyd Dec 28 '16 at 16:13
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    Used to is not used differently with BE in the existential construction than it is with any other verb. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 28 '16 at 16:26
  • I'm not talking about the used to which is used when a subject has been mentioned in the sentence, I'm referring to the used to which is used followed by there, these two forms are different from each other: There used to be a house here - A house used to exist here. These constructions are placed in different forms, what differs them from each other is that one contains the subject House and the other one the subject is replaced by There . – Davyd Dec 28 '16 at 16:29
  • Yes--There BE X is the existential construction. Used to is deployed with this construction exactly as it is in any other context, and it confronts the same problem with this construction as it does in any other context: since USE to VERB lost its connection with the ordinary verb USE and became the effectively distinct morpheme useta there has been no universally accepted way of casting it into the negative or interrogative. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 28 '16 at 16:37
  • useta can't be a morpheme. useta is just a phonological interpretation of the way used to [verb] is spoken in utterances. And /used to/ is most definitely not a morpheme (the smallest element of meaning that cannot be broken down. Because in fact, it does break down into Used + to. Written and spoken language are two different things. – Lambie Dec 28 '16 at 17:56

"Did there used to be (a house)?"

is grammatically convoluted, but I think acceptable. "Was there a house" tends to be simpler and more direct, but doesn't convey quite the same meaning. Negative form:

Did there not use(d) to be ..?

is again, grammatical, but most people just say, "Wasn't there a house?"

Just to check I went to Google and started typing, with these as my top three auto-complete suggestions:

Did there used to be life on Mars?

Did there used to be giants?

Did there used to be 51 states?

(Note: I corrected this based on this ELU article. Apparently the negative form is "use to" not "used to".)

(2nd Note: There is some conflict over what is "correct". Lacking provenance or credentials, I'm going to let others figure it out.)

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    so you went to google and started typing with your tentacles? Interesting, lol. Thank you for you answer, I was unsure wheter I could or not make usage of the "did" in there to be's constructions. I think there was can also perfom this function. – Davyd Dec 28 '16 at 16:06
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    My goodness, everyone is repeating the mistake. I used to live in London. Did you use to live in London. I didn't use to ride a bike. – Lambie Dec 28 '16 at 16:23
  • @Lambie Actually that was bothering me as well, is it "use to" or "used to"? But I figured someone on SE must have asked this already: english.stackexchange.com/questions/30035/i-use-to-or-i-used-to – Andrew Dec 28 '16 at 16:27
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    @Lambie: Your link is without provenance or authority. – Robusto Dec 28 '16 at 16:41
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    @Andrew Who said anything "What we can say or can't say? There are AmE sites to but I'm damned if I'm going fishing for 'em. It's not about speech, it's about grammar and AmE is the same thing here. – Lambie Dec 28 '16 at 17:50

1) There used to be a house here. [simple past, in fact].

2) They used to drive to school. [simple past, in fact] Therefore, the interrogative and negative follow the rules using DID + infinitive.

Past: Did there use to be a house here? Negative: There didn't use to be a house here.

Did they use to drive to school? They didn't use to drive to school.


And here is the British Council: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/quick-grammar/used-infinitive-and-beget-used

But the same is true in American English and Canadian English.

And this is not googleable or ngrammable.

It does not matter that /used to/ + verb is a defective form. It still follows the regular English rule re negative and interrogative which is: did + notional form of the verb.

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You have to make use of the English language's reliance on do support to make the negative and interrogative forms of there used to be.

Negative form:

There didn't used to be . . .

Interrogative form:

Did there used to be . . . ?

Note that the negative interrogative has the same meaning as the positive interrogative form:

Didn't there used to be . . . ?

Here the questioner is asking if there was something at one time, but adds the nuance that the questioner suspects that the thing asked about really did exist as imagined.

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  • Correction: Did there use to be//not: used to be. You repeated the mistake three times.... – Lambie Dec 28 '16 at 16:17
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    @Lambie: You are quite simply mistaken. See this Ngram for relative usage. The "use to" version flatlines by comparison to what people really say. – Robusto Dec 28 '16 at 16:30
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    Sorry, I'm not wrong and Ngram does not cut it. It's unfortunate that many people still have not understood that what is grammatical or ungrammatical cannot be "just ngrammed". Usage on the internet is not an argument. There is no D in the negative and interrogative past of used to. – Lambie Dec 28 '16 at 16:33
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    NGram usage here is appropriate, given that it's very difficult to tell the difference aurally between "use to" and "used to": what people have written (and editors have checked) is evidence of what they believe the correct form to be, whatever you may say. – Robusto Dec 28 '16 at 16:40
  • Sorry, you are mistaken. NGram does not have usage and it is not appropriate or inappropriate. It's just a quantifying tool of occurrences of an expression or phrase. And the number of occurrences of an expression or phrase does not prove anything in language except that some x number of occurrences exist. – Lambie Dec 28 '16 at 16:42

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