I have come across the following sentence by a native speaker:

In addition to simply answering my questions, it would be great if you could also provide the source code that you used to answer those questions.

For context, to answer their questions, I need to go through the following steps:

  1. Find appropriate source codes
  2. Read them and find the answers to their questions

Once I do so, I can either only provide the answers or I can provide both the answers and the source codes I will be using to get the answers. The person is asking me to do the latter.

Here is my question. Given that the actions of using source codes and answering their questions have not occurred yet, are use or will use not better candidates compared to used?

  • 1
    Since the first request (simply answering the questions) must perforce already have been complied with, it's perfectly reasonable to refer "back" to it using Past Tense in the context of the second ("later") request (to provide the source code). Personally, I have no opinion about which is "better" - that's a meaningless concept here, Apr 7, 2023 at 23:04
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you for your response. I find it helpful! But I did not get the last part, "Personally, I have no opinion about which is "better". Are you saying all the three choices "used", "use", and "will use" are acceptable and equally good in the above sentence?
    – H D
    Apr 8, 2023 at 14:11
  • 1
    the sentence 'provide the source code you will use' implies that you want the source code first, then the answers later - it's future tense, so there must be some future point. At the time you provide the answers, however that's already in the past, so 'will use' is not appropriate, and 'used' is the best word choice.
    – thelawnet
    Apr 8, 2023 at 14:20
  • Yes, that's pretty much what I mean. Feasibly if I gave a lot more thought to even your specific example, I might eventually decide that I think some choices are better or worse than others. But I haven't given it that much thought - just enough to confidently assert that they're all at least syntactically and idiomatically acceptable. On the other hand, I'd be prepared to bet money that there will be similar contexts (so similar that you can't see why they might be "different") where I have a strong opinion over which versions I prefer and/or dislike. Apr 8, 2023 at 14:23
  • (I can see the point @thelawnet is making, but I wouldn't overstate that justification / interpretation. It wouldn't necessarily be intended by a speaker / writer, and/or understood by the audience / readers. It's just a "possible implication".) Apr 8, 2023 at 14:27

1 Answer 1


The short answer to OP's question is that use, used, and will use are all syntactically fine and in practice all mean "the same" in the specified context.

Which tense to use is primarily a stylistic choice (there are "logical" justifications for all three), but I can confidently assert that will use is unlikely (unless for some reason the speaker wishes to explicitly force and emphasize the "temporal focus" into the future).

BUT it's important to note that in the most natural (spoken, not written) context, it's effectively impossible for the audience to know whether the speaker said use to or used to (see the earlier ELL question "Didn't use to get" or "Didn't used to get"?, where the short answer is "Nobody knows!").

I originally said in comments that I thought use would probably be the most common choice, but I now think that's just because I was listening to my own "inner voice" reading out the text. And because I can't "hear" the d, I assume it's not present (even when I'm actually reading from text where I can see it! :)

I now think that OP's cited writer made the most likely choice anyway. But it would be of no consequence if he'd used Present Tense use, and even will use wouldn't actually be "incorrect" - just "slightly unusual".

It may be helpful to consider a similar context that isn't affected by the use to / used to audible ambiguity...

Please get me a pint of milk from the local shop and tell me how much you paid for it

...where again, all three tenses are "syntactically valid". But almost everyone would almost always use the Past Tense version as given.

  • The example you provided at the end (which involved purchasing a pint of milk) was very relatable and helpful in clarifying the concept! Thank you for all your wonderful help!
    – H D
    Apr 9, 2023 at 18:22
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    I had no idea when making my initial comments under your question that I'd end up firmly committing to the Past Tense version for all "normal" contexts. For me as a native speaker, it turns out the confusion relating to use to and used to being homophonous was crucial, even though my entire engagement with the text was conducted in the silent written medium. The power of word sounds is quite astonishing! Apr 9, 2023 at 18:30

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