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I used to be fat.

Is this correct?

I feel 'used to' is used with repeated action but not being done now.

I used to smoke.

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    I used to be fat = I was fat (a "continuous" state of affairs, until some point in the past when I ceased to be fat). But I used to visit my granny on Sundays refers to regularly repeated action / habit. Feb 17, 2021 at 16:37
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    I don't know. Were you really?
    – Lambie
    Feb 17, 2021 at 17:43

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That works just fine. You can say "I used to ..." with atelic verb phrase, and be + [adjective] is an atelic verb phrase.

  • I used to be better at running than I am now

  • I used to like the Beatles

  • I used to be fat/young/healthy/....

  • I used to smoke

  • I used to slam doors

Examples of telic verb phrases are "build a house" or "slam the door". These don't work with "used to".

So what's the difference between telic and atelic verb phrases?

The word "atelic" roughly means an action that is ongoing, or habitual, like sleeping or running, or going to school. That's opposite to "telic", which means something like "momentary and/or completed", for example sneezing or smashing. Or, building a single house to completion.

So "slam a door" is telic because it's taken to mean "slam a single door once". But "slam doors" is atelic because each time a door slams is a separate occasion. So "slam doors" can be habitual and/or ongoing, but "slam a door" cannot be.

There are other tests you can do to find out a verb phrase's telicity. If you can specify a duration by adding "for three hours" or something like that, then the verb phrase is atelic. "Slam a door for three hours" is ungrammatical (incidentally, it's also impossible to do). But "slam doors for three hours" is perfectly grammatical.

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    Thx. I used to be young is right?
    – gomadeng
    Feb 17, 2021 at 16:33
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    There's nothing ungrammatical about I used to be young, but it's a rather odd thing to say, since we all 'used to be' younger than we are now! Feb 17, 2021 at 17:07
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    @KateBunting. I definitely might say it in response to something like: "you used to be able to climb that tree without breaking a sweat" Feb 17, 2021 at 17:30
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    I used to build houses. I used to slam doors. :)
    – Lambie
    Feb 17, 2021 at 17:44
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    @Lambie, those are not telic verb phrases Feb 17, 2021 at 17:53

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