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What is the question form of "She used to come here."?

Is "Did she use to come here?" or "Used she to come here?" From my high school English classes, I remember I was taught it is "Used she to come here?" but now it seems a strange way to form a question.

Which one is the correct form, or the most used one?

  • "Used she to" is simply ungrammatical. – Mechanical snail Feb 8 '13 at 23:58
8

What you were taught in high school (Used she to come here?) is still found in some textbooks for learners of English, but I've never heard it used in spoken language, nor have I read it in modern written texts.

I guess that changing the intonation of the sentence and adding a rising pitch to it, without altering the word pattern, is perfectly acceptable in a colloquial context; however, to be on the safe side, I would ask such a question using the did form, so

Did she use to come here regularly?

  • 2
    Note that "use" is pronounced /jus/ rather than /juz/ in this usage, just like in used to, rather than the ordinary verb use. – Mechanical snail Feb 9 '13 at 0:00
6

If in informal speech, it's acceptable to just add a question mark and intone with a rising pitch, as in "She used to come here?"

Nobody would use the old-fashioned form of 'Used she to come here?" these days, so if you are in a formal situation, it's advisable to rephrase the question entirely, for example, "did she come here regularly in those days?"

3

Used she to come here? is no longer idiomatic in spoken English, because the underlying semantic and phonetic structure has evolved.

In 19th century, the old 16th-18th century use + marked infinitive, meaning the sense of “do habitually” was still occasionally employed in the present tense. I find no indication that it was pronounced otherwise than as use is in all other modern senses: /juːz/.

That present-tense usage, however, appears to have been entirely literary. By 1904, Fowler could write (in a footnote to Milton's “Lycidas”) that “The present tense of the verb ‘to use’ is obsolete in this sense : we can say ‘ he used to do this,’ but not ‘ he uses to do this.’  ”

About the same time (the earliest instance I have found is 1916) a new spelling appears in the representation of ‘common’ speech: useta. This spelling is still found today, and I have to think that it represented, as it does now, the pronunciation /juːstə/. That marks the divorce of used to, both phonetically and semantically, from its origin in the ordinary verb use.

For more than a century, then, putting used in the front position, which enforces an unnatural pronunciation with /z/ would remove it from its proper syntactical context. Consequently, we can no more say “Used she to come here?” than we can say *Uses she to come here”—or “Has she to come here?” or “Wants she to come here?” We say “Did she useta come here?” just as we say “Does she hafta come here?” or “Does she wanta come here?”

If you actually encounter people saying “Uses she to come here?” you may put them down as pedants, and ignore their usage as hypercorrect.

  • If I understand your first sentence correctly, I profoundly disagree with it. It seems to be saying that used is always and only pronounced /juːzd/ and never /juːsd/. I would pronounce Used she to and Did she use to as /juːsd/ and /juːs/. – Andrew Leach Jan 27 '13 at 0:15
  • @AndrewLeach No/juːsd/, I'm saying that the /zd/ pronunciation is employed except in this sense. Do you in fact employ Used she (which I would think would have to be /juːst/ not /juːsd/)? If so, that's very interesting: it suggests you're three quarters of the way to promoting use to a full modal. – StoneyB Jan 27 '13 at 0:53
  • No, I'd say Did she use to come here? -- Used she is archaic, but to say it's no longer possible is too strong. But simply writing "Used she" has no indication of the pronunciation you're applying to it, so saying its "phonetic structure has disappeared" is ambiguous [and it appears I fell into the hole]. – Andrew Leach Jan 27 '13 at 0:58
  • @AndrewLeach I've rewritten a tad ... the whole used she notion seems to me a desperate effort by traditionalists to preserve typographic grammaticality. They knew that Did she used? looked bad; and it never occurred to them that what people actually say is Did she use to?, but with the /s/ pronunciation which has never been anything but perfectly grammatical. See the wacky cross-purposes dialogue here. – StoneyB Jan 27 '13 at 1:08
  • I can certainly imagine my pedantic curmudgeon of an English master at school saying Used she with /z/. He may well have been unique, but regrettably formative! That is, I wouldn't object to Used she even if I wouldn't use /z/ these days. – Andrew Leach Jan 27 '13 at 1:11
1

It's generally used as an exclamation which will generally only get a yes or no answer unless you quantify it with, when, how at what time etc:

She used to come here? When? or How? or At what time?

Or if you're asking a specific question and expecting an answer to it, I'd use:

When did she come here?

She came here three years ago.

How did she come here?

She came by bus.

Used to is referring to something that happened in the past, which may or may not still happen. So you have to quantify what answer you're expecting in asking the question.

If you simply use:

She used to come here?

Yes.

About the only answer you'll get is yes or no.

However, you'd probably be better off completely rephrasing the question to be more specific:

Has she been here before?

Yes.

When?

Three years ago.

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