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Excuse me, I know that my question is probably duplicate in this forum, but as a beginner of English language, that's important for me to know the difference(s) between these words. I'm sorry if my question make you disappointed or angry.

Is there any difference between did and used to, considering these two dialogues?

  • Dialogue 1

    • Did you use to teach art?
    • No, I didn't teach art. I taught history.
  • Dialogue 2

    • Did you use to have a dog?
    • No, we didn't. What about you? Did you have a dog?

It seems to me that did and used to are basically two ways to express the same meaning and there is not any main differences between them. Am I right?

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No, you aren't. The verb to do, past form did, in both dialogues is employed as AUXILIARY verb, to construct the interrogation and the negation, it's not relevant for the final meaning of the sentence. On the other hand, "use to" is an idiom.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary

use to idiom

—used to say that something existed or repeatedly happened in the past but does not exist or happen now —used with did

Notice the part that I've highlighted. If you employ use to, you're implying that the situation does not exist right now. If you just employ "did", to construct the interrogative form, without "use to", there is no implications.

Using your example:
Did you have a dog?
What I'm thinking: You're talking about your childhood and I'm interested in pets. You may have or may don't have a dog right now. Did you have a dog when you were a child?

Did you use to have a dog?
What I'm thinking: I can't see no dog around now but I think that you had one last time I visit but I'm not sure about that.

Another completely different example:
I used to smoke back when I was in college (1970).
Explanation: I smoked cigarettes in the seventies but now I don't smoke, at an unmentioned time between then and now I quit smoking.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you very much for your explanation. Excuse me, I have questions about the implications which you've written about the examples: For the sentence "Did you have a dog?", you've written that "[...] right now but I like dogs." Honestly, I didn't understand you. Because the question considers past, so why should it has anything to do with "right now"? I has the same question about "but I like dogs." And about the sentence "Did you use to have a dog?" you've written that "but I think that you had one last time I visit." Is it necessary that one has seen the dog before to say that, or it's not? – Qàtrè Apr 22 at 13:29
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    @Qàtrè I've tried to employ your examples. Maybe that part just confuses you and I should remove it. The relevant part is highlighted in the definition. My examples are imaginary situations. They are not canonical. I don't know the reason why you ask someone about his dog. – RubioRic Apr 22 at 13:47
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    @Qàtrè In the second example you don't need to have seen the dog previously. Maybe you just found some dog hair traces in the floor or something (a photo in a table, a pet toy) indicates you that in that place a dog lived but it's no longer present. In your imaginary dialogue, you're the one asking, you're not sure about the presence of the dog but something indicates you that such dog is not there any more. Maybe you know that person from your childhood and you think that he had a dog but you are not sure. There are a lot of possible scenarios. – RubioRic Apr 22 at 13:47
  • Thank you very much again! I saw those sentences in some slides of the British English course of "Rosetta Stone TOTALe". I am studying English using that software. That's why I asked this question. Sorry if my question is somehow strange to native speakers of English. Thanks again. – Qàtrè Apr 22 at 14:30
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    @Qàtrè You're welcome. Notice that I'm not a native English speaker either :-) You should leave this question open a bit more, and wait for additional explanations from other users. – RubioRic Apr 22 at 14:59

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