I have confusion with some grammatical facts. So I am looking for help here.

Which one should be correct?

A. What did you use to cook?

B. What did you used to cook?

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    Does this answer your question? Using “used to” vs "would" when expressing something done in the past. Note the comment under that question: this is one of the seven verbs [in which Pullum, a linguist] analyzes -to not as a separate word (as in the so-called phrasal verbs) but as a suffix (forming wanna, gonna, usta, hafta, gotta, oughta, sposta). Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 16:51
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    ...and I'm pretty sure our own resident linguist John Lawler has pointed out in the past that actually, even native speakers can't agree on whether the "past tense" version should be written I didn't use to do that or I didn't used to do it (there being no real possibility of this reflecting any difference in pronunciation). Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 16:57
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    naasif - don't worry too much about the orthography (per above comment, there's no consensus on how the past tense "habitual" sense should be written). What matters is how it's pronounced. With a soft "Z" sound, it means What implements / raw materials did you use when cooking?, but with a hard "S", it means What meals did you usually prepare? Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 17:07
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    naasif - I'm a native speaker with a degree that includes linguistics, so I know this stuff inside out. More importantly - have you got it? :) Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 17:23
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    naasif - To satisfy my curiosity, when you actually posted this question, had you ever heard (or read about) utterances such as She used to like him (and more specifically, did you know that used there is pronounced different to She used drugs when she was a student)? Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


I voted to close because this has been asked and answered more that once before, but I can't resist flagging up this somewhat striking example...

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That's actually from a book intended to teach English to non-native speakers! The writer seems blissfully unaware that he's written the past tense both different ways in the same sentence. I think that's proof enough of my comment that there is no "correct" orthography. (But I'd expect any halfway competent teacher to be at least consistent! :)

Note that there's no possibility of ambiguity (doubt as to whether What did you use(d) to cook? means A: What implements did you use to cook?, or B: What did you usually cook?), because they're enunciated completely differently. The first meaning always has a soft "Z", whereas the second always has a hard "S" sound, and blends seamlessly into the infinitive marker that follows (as usta).

EDIT: (2 days after original post)
I must accept at least one of the points made in the extended discussion my answer led to (now moved to chat). If we rephrase slightly and switch to a different verb...

1: Explain what you wanted to do.
2: Explain what you didn't want to do.

...it should be clear that the second version doesn't inflect want for Past Tense. That's because we've already done this with the auxiliary verb did (so have is just an "unmarked infinitive", that doesn't include the "infinitive marker" to [have] in such contexts).

But my substantive point is that few native speakers would consciously recognise that point for OP's exact example, and most (if not all) of us can neither pronounce nor hear the difference between use and used in such contexts, so it doesn't really make much difference how it's written.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user230
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 21:30
  • I would edit out the "striking example". I don't know why you are keeping it.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 17:19
  • I would rather see both my reply here and your comment moved to chat. This extended discussion serves little purpose for learners, since it's mostly about something that only really interests knowledgeable pedants. Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 17:41

In my speech, I never use "use(d) to" in the primary clauses of questions in this way.

However, many English speakers do (it is dialectual). It's always "used to" with the first person ("I"/"we"). "Use" is more common than "used" with second ("you") person, but I've heard both ("used" is common in the Southern US and in AAVE). Some websites will say it is incorrect that way, but it is definitely in use.

However, there is another problem with the diction here.

What did you use to cook?

^ This sounds like you might be using the phrase 'use to' in a different way - asking what tools or items were used to help you cook! "What did you use to cook? Did you use the spatula? Did you use the knife?" So I would find another way to disambiguate or convey your actual meaning, perhaps:

What dishes did you use to cook?

or avoid "use(d) to" altogether.

If you say it in the southern english / AAVE way ("you... used to") - your B) above - it's not ambiguous, and fine as is.

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    In Early Modern English use to could be used in the present tense for be in the habit of - see merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/is-it-used-to-or-use-to Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 16:30
  • I think the sense of use(d) to = was accustomed to has been mainstream for centuries. If you never use it, I'd say that suggests it's your speech that's somehow "dialectal, non-mainstream". Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 17:01
  • I didn't say I ever don't use it, I said I don't use it in the primary clauses of questions. And all speech is dialect. The notion that there is some orthographic English and "dialects" which are variations or perversions of that One True English is prescriptivism and should be eliminated. Check your equation of "dialectal" and "non-mainstream", please. (And maybe read more carefully before putting people on blast for no reason.)
    – BadZen
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 17:35
  • And to put a fine point on it: please definitely do so especially when quoting / attributing.
    – BadZen
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 17:58

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