We have three kinds of past:

I had a car / I used to have a car / I was having a car.

  1. What is the difference in your understanding of the meaning of these three sentences?
  2. As I understand we have:

    non-action verbs: have, think, want, live ...

    action verbs: run, read, listen, move, jump ...

    And then how do you understand the meaning of phrases like 'used to have' or 'used to think', 'used to live'?

  3. And high question: Are past simple and 'used to' interchangeable? "I lived in London" and "I used to live in London." What is the difference? My guess is that the difference is in the period of time of living. And if this is true, from what period of time of a non-action verb can I use 'used to'?

1 Answer 1


I had a car

In some situation or event in the past, you had a car. You may or may not have a car now.

I used to have a car

This emphasizes the fact you don't have a car now.

I was having a car

For have, this doesn't work in the sense of "possess". The reader/listener will assume you mean "consume" (in the sense of I was having dinner) and will laugh at you unless context is allowing you to be something that eats a car, which is not likely.

For other verbs - this is past progressive tense, and makes the action apply over a duration of time in the past - the typical reason for this construct is that you want to relate another event that happens in the middle of this duration, or interrupts the duration.

I was thinking of going to the park but I went to the store instead. (You spent some time deciding what to do.)

I was living in Chicago while the flood happened.

I was wanting some candy when she was here. (She was here for some duration and during that time, you wanted candy.)

Simple past simply says something happened and doesn't imply that it happened over any stretch of time.

Are past simple and 'used to' interchangeable?

Used to X means you don't have or do X now, and typically (but not always) implies that you had or done X a long time ago.

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