British council says "We use the past continuous for something that happened again and again. And they put some sentences below:

I was practising every day, three times a day.

They were meeting secretly after school.

They were always quarrelling.

However, when I examined these sentences, it seems that they have the same meaning with "used to so something". Grammar books say "used to do" is used for actions that happened in the past again and again. And now, I see that past continuous is also used for the same function - repeated actions in the past.

And in the above sentences, you can actually replace "was/were doing" with "used to do" without distorting the meaning.

I used to practice every day 3 times a day.

They used to meet secretly after school.

They used to quarrel, always.

So, can we say "the past continous tense" and "used to do something" both have same meaning when it comes to actions in the past that happened again and again.

  • 1
    Yes, they do, although used to has more of an implication that the habitual action was a long time ago. I was practising every day until I broke my wrist a month ago. I used to practise every day when I first started learning the piano. Jan 19, 2022 at 14:54
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    They can mean the same thing, but they don't always. Consider "I used to have a dog" - that is an example of used to that cannot be switched with the past continuous.
    – stangdon
    Jan 19, 2022 at 17:09
  • @stangdon But that is not a repeated action, is it? "I used to have a dog" refers to a fact "having a dog" in the past, not an action that happened again and again.
    – Yunus
    Jan 19, 2022 at 17:48
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    @yunus You're correct, that is not a repeated action. My point is simply that you can use used to for repeated actions, but not every use of used to indicates a repeated action, unlike "was Xing".
    – stangdon
    Jan 19, 2022 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


The past continuous tense is not only used for actions that happened again and again. It is also used to describe a single instance of an action that was ongoing or continuous for some period of time in the past. For example, this is also past continuous: "I was trying to practice all day yesterday, but my phone kept interrupting me."

"Used to", on the other hand, can only be used for habitual actions. That's why it's not the same as the past continuous. But you are right, both can be used for past habitual actions. And if the British council is implying that the past continuous can only be used for habitual actions, then I'm afraid they're wrong. Maybe they meant that describing habitual actions is one of the uses of the past continuous tense.

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