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I am not sure about using "used to"

We use "used to" to talk about our past habits (can I say "late habits" ?), and we cannot use any specific time, so that we talk about past in general.

So the question is: can I say "I used to drink coffee in 2010" ? I mean that year in general, during this year I used to drink coffee everyday.

Or "I used to drink coffee two years ago?"

  • Or even "I used to drink coffee at 10:15 every morning." – Robusto Jan 22 at 15:27
  • You could certainly say We used to drink coffee when we were in France as students at the Sorbonne (i.e. - during a time-period lasting at least months, if not years). But it wouldn't really work very well with a much shorter period such as We used to drink coffee when we were on our honeymoon in Paris. And to my ear it doesn't work at all with ...when we went to Paris for a romantic weekend last year. – FumbleFingers Jan 22 at 15:59
  • Thanks. Is English your first language? Just wanna be sure that I've got the answer from a native speaker. To sum it up. Please correct me. I CANNOT say "I used to surf the internet when I was on a bus yesterday", because a bus journey is a short period, let's imagine I want to get to my work from house. And i did not mention that I use a bus for transferring every day. Maybe I have a car. So here we do not use "used to". But I CAN say "I used to surf the internet on a bus every day three years ago" Because "every day" means a long period of time, enough to BE USED TO something? – Taras Kryvko Jan 22 at 17:12
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You're absolutely fine to add a clarifying time period when saying "used to" - both your example usages are fine.

  • Thanks but I'm absolutely confused, I've found the teacher book with answers for an exercise, and I've got this: "We used to go skiing in the holidays l̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶y̶e̶a̶r̶ ̶". The task was to cross out extra words, and the teacher book says that in the sentence above "last year" is extra. So who's right, you guys or teacher book, or maybe I don't understand the rule at all??? – Taras Kryvko Jan 22 at 20:16
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"Used to" implies two things at once:

  1. You have done something more than once but do not intend to repeat the action in the future (you have stopped doing it completely).

  2. The time elapsed since you have done something is significant (as @FumbleFingers points out, this is typically months or years).

And while you certainly can add a reference to time in many instances, it often isn't necessary since you are discussing things you are no longer doing.

Note, however, if you do add a description of when you "used to" do something, it should generally cover multiple occasions.

I CANNOT say "I used to surf the internet when I was on a bus yesterday", because a bus journey is a short period.

The last time you surfed the internet while taking a bus (yesterday) isn't far enough in the past. Also...

You may or may not repeat the action in the future:

"I surfed the internet when I was on the bus yesterday."

A significant period of time has elapsed, you have done this before and you do not intend to repeat the action:

"I used to surf the internet when I was on the bus."

Specific vs. Multiple Time Frames

Note that the phrases in brackets [...] serve to clarify the time frame when these events occurred.

Specific Time

"I surfed the internet when I was on the bus [yesterday]."

Multiple Times

"I used to surf the internet [when I was on the bus]."

Other Examples

But I CAN say "I used to surf the internet on a bus [every day] [three years ago]".

Perhaps yes, but a better phrasing might be e.g. "Up until three years ago, I used to surf the internet on a bus every day."

Likewise, "Back in 2010, I used to drink coffee [every day]."

"We used to go skiing in the holidays l̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶y̶e̶a̶r̶ ̶".

Arguably, "last year" is too specific. It's also redundant:

"We used to go skiing..."

When?

"... In the holidays."

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