Long story short: trying to simplify the rule about being able or unable to use "would" in place of "used to" when talking about the past, I got this:

We don't use "would" in place of "used to" with stative verbs, like those that we don't use in the Continuous tenses.

Is it true, or did I miss something?


After reading from this link, it makes more sense:

'Would' is used in a case where it's already been established that something in the past is being referred to. For example:

When I was younger, I would bike to school.

This sounds natural as opposed to saying something like

When I was younger, I used to bike to school.

In contrast, using 'used to' sounds more appropriate here:

I used to bike to school every day when I was younger.

Combining the two:

I used to bike to school every day when I was younger. I would meet my friends after school to go to the park.

The link probably explains it more than I can!

Edit: I've researched a little more and am not able to find the best of answers, but I did find a few more examples. I think the proper use of 'would' and 'used to' become more natural as you learn more English.

Example from 5minuteenglish.com with emphasis added -

"Used as a verb. Used to + verb is a regular verb and means something that happened but doesn't happen any more. It uses -ed to show past tense. But since it always means something that happened in the past, it should always use past tense.

Ex. "I used to go to school in Paris. (I went to school there before, but now I don't.)"

Ex. "When Joshua was a child, he used to climb trees. (Now he doesn't climb trees.)"

Also, by the examples from this site I would say that would is used sometimes in more of a hypothetical 'what if' type of sentence.

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  • Hmm. Could you please provide more sources to support the claim about "would" only being used when "it's already been established that something in the past is being referred to"? For example, this page disagrees with your claim, as does this page, both of them listing some sentences with "would" used to talk about an action that hasn't been established before. – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 21 '18 at 23:41
  • Although I can see a possible point in similar claims: otherwise the listener can be confused and expect the second part of a conditional sentence: after "I would always get up late in the morning..." one could expect, for example, "...if I had no job" instead of "... when I was a child". The other limitation that some of the articles mention is the style to which this construction belongs to -- "used to" can be used in everyday spoken language, while "would do something" belongs to literary style. – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jul 21 '18 at 23:45
  • @Bas I think you can trust the provided source. Even as someone who doesn't speak English natively, I can tell you that what it says is quite right. Take a look at the sentences given by the BBC source – the bold part establishes a past frame of reference: When he was at university, he would sleep until noon at the weekends; My sister lived in Australia for many years, but she would always come home for Christmas; I would always forget my homework, until the teacher threatened to punish me. The last example doesn't make sense except as part of a narrative recounting past events. – userr2684291 Jul 22 '18 at 1:06
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    The author of the given article, Jane Mairs, makes quite an astute observation there. Swan, however, makes no note of it (at least not in the third edition of his renowned book Practical English Usage), but he does pin it down quite accurately from another angle, ascribing the infelicity of examples such as I would smoke to the described behavior's being regularly habitual and important (and therefore requiring used to). For a complete picture, combine the two explanations. – userr2684291 Jul 22 '18 at 1:45

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