What question do you consider:

  1. Grammatically incorrect but common
  2. 100% grammatically correct
  3. Wrong and not common?
  • What games or activities did you used to play during recess or after school?

  • What games or activities did you use to play during recess or after school?

  • en.wiktionary.org/wiki/use_to#English
    – chepner
    Commented Feb 11 at 19:07
  • 2
    These people cover it all. languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2756 But bear in mind the form is has become a word unto itself for some.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 11 at 20:24
  • 3
    How is this question not closed for lack of research, but upvoted instead?
    – gotube
    Commented Feb 11 at 21:42
  • 1
    @BillJ: John Lawler often said that nobody knows whether it's Did you use to...? or ...used to...?, because to almost everyone it's impossible to tell the difference in speech. Grammarians and writers can spout all they like about why their preferred version is "correct", but I'm quite content to say it's a meaningless question. I don't know or care what other people think - it's like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Commented Feb 12 at 19:13
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? What did you use to cook or What did you used to cook, which one is correct? Commented Feb 12 at 19:16

5 Answers 5


[1] *What games or activities did you used to play during recess or after school?

[2] What games or activities did you use to play during recess or after school?

Only [2] is correct. The uncertainty about which form to use probably arises because the "used to" in [1] is pronounced with a single /t/ and hence is homophonous with the "use to" in [2].

The aspectual verb "use" has no present tense, no ing participle and no past participle; it only has plain and past tense forms.

For most speakers this "use" is a lexical verb (as opposed to an auxiliary), so inversion requires the addition of the auxiliary verb "did". Auxiliary verbs like "did" are followed by a plain verb-form (infinitive) so we cannot use the tensed form "used"; rather, only the plain-form "use" as in [2] is possible.

  • Quoting: "For most speakers this "use" is a lexical verb (as opposed to an auxiliary)": maybe for some native speakers, although Quirk definitely has it under in the "Auxiliaries" section. As far as EFL students are concerned they are usually taught that "used to" is a modal verb. And saying that "Only [2] is correct" is slightly biased. Quite a lot of ELF teachers would not mark [1] as "wrong"!
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:13
  • @None If it were an auxiliary, then "Used you to play football?" / "He usen't to play football" would be acceptable, which they aren't for most people.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:21
  • @BillJ You are entitled to consider that most grammar textbooks (for specialists as well as ELF students) are wrong but at least you should claim this as a personal opinion.
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:29
  • @None So you consider the examples I just gave ("Used you to play football?" / "He usen't to play football") to be OK? Because that's how they would be written/spoken if "use" really was an auxiliary verb.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:32
  • @BillJ These examples are "OK" (in so far as they are not wrong), but I would never use them unless I wanted to sound very old-fashioned. "Used to" is certainly not a primary auxiliary, in my opinion "used to" is definitely a modal, 'marginal modal auxiliary', the term used by Quirk suits me fine. Quirk says "The interrogative construction used he to is especially BrE; did he used to is preferred in both AmE & BrE." (My copy of Quirk from my uni years is over 50 years old, but looking at the evolution of the English language over the past 50 years this is probably not wrong today).
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 10:21

The first is incorrect, and the second is correct. However it is quite difficult to distinguish the two sentences in casual speech, so people might know which is being used. While I would say "I used to play marbles as a child", I would ask the question as "What did you play when you were a child".

  • Re: "it is quite difficult to distinguish the two sentences in casual speech": In my dialect, it's actually impossible to distinguish the two in speech: even if enunciating carefully, both are /'ju:s 'tu:/. I'm from the Northern U.S., and I see that you're Australian, so maybe this is a regional difference?
    – ruakh
    Commented Feb 11 at 21:22
  • 2
    *In your opinion the first is incorrect, but it is acceptable for a lot of people. Just look at grammar books, including those for EFL students.
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:32
  • @None Since you're appealing to grammar books, you should probably cite a specific one (or more).
    – LarsH
    Commented Feb 12 at 14:51
  • @LarsH I already had, and even quoted, in comments tied to other answers. No use repeating here.
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 15:52
  • @None I did find that later. Since I saw the appeal in comments on two answers, with no citations, I got the impression that your claims were unsubstantiated. I can understand why you'd opt not to repeat the citations everywhere, but I wouldn't go so far as to say "no use."
    – LarsH
    Commented Feb 12 at 16:35

Summary: many native speakers consider “did you used to …?” incorrect, but it's common and some consider it correct. With the related negative form, native speakers tend to prefer “… didn't used to …” to “… didn't use to …”, and some even consider “didn't use to” incorrect.

Etymologically, “?did you used to” is grammatically incorrect: the auxiliary did must be followed by the base form of the verb, use. It cannot be followed by a past participle such as used. By this reasoning, “did you use to” is the only correct form. This is the conservative prescriptivist answer to your question.

However, if you look at actual usage, “did you used to” is used by a substantial and increasing minority. So the descriptivist answer is that both are correct, at least in British English, perhaps less in American English.

did you used to/did you use to,did they used to/did they use to,did not used to/did not use to

Notice that with the negative form, “didn't used to” is more common in writing than “didn't use to”, and this has been the case since the mid-20th century. See also ‘What's the negation of "I used to be"? Surely not "I didn't used to be"?’ on ELU.SE.

The prescriptivist analysis of modern usage is that “used to” doesn't really work like an ordinary verb here, even if it originally was an ordinary verb. “Used to” can only be used in the past tense, and it's always followed by a verb. This makes it somewhat similar to an auxiliary, and auxiliaries don't change form at all (no -s for the third person singular, no -ed formation of past tenses, no possibility of using an arbitrary auxiliary such as can or would before it…). The similarity to auxiliaries is only partial though: “used to” still needs the auxiliary “did” when the subject is inverted or when there is a negation (none of “*Used to you play …?” or “*I used not to play” are acceptable). Language Log (cited by Lambie) has a more detailed explanation.

The shift towards “used to” where only “use to” was originally grammatically possible is made easier by the pronunciation: depending on the dialect, the two are very close or possibly even indistinguishable.

  • Far too complicated an answer for a learner.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 12 at 8:12
  • To support this answer we can look at what textbooks for learners of English say. Collins Cobuild English Usage (1992): "Used to is not common in negative structures. In conversation you can say that something didn't used to happen or didn't used to be the case. They didn't used to mind that we did. [...] You form yes/no questions with used to by putting 'did' in front of the subject, followed by used to. Did you used to play with your trains?, What did you used to do on Sundays?"
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 8:33
  • Michael Swann Practical English usage (4th edition, §87, 2016): "When questions and negatives are written, they often have did... used instead of did... use. Many people consider this incorrect. What did people use(d) to do in the evening before TV? / I didn’t use(d) to like the opera but now I do". See also Peter Shor's answer on ELU.
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 8:36
  • @Gillies This "use" cannot be followed by a past participle because it doesn't have such a form in its paradigm. I think careful (mature?) writers would prefer the traditional "did you use to". Incidentally, it's quite a complicated answer for a learner. (Not my downvote, by the way).
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 12 at 9:13
  • @BillJ In my opinion better "complicated" (your opinion, not mine, I find it it accessible to a B1 learner) than partial. I admit the question asking "do you consider" is bound to attract opinion based answers, but those saying " did you used to " is not correct should have said this was their opinion. At least Gilles's answer is correct and not biased.
    – None
    Commented Feb 12 at 10:35

"What games or activities did you use to play during recess or after school?"

"I used to play hopscotch." I didn't use to jump rope."

"Did you use to play tag? Maybe you used to play marbles."

"Used to" is a past habitual marker [1, 2]. When speaking of a past habit or recurring activity an American says "used to" or "didn't use to" but not "use to" or "didn't used to". (And never "did use to" unless you want to get beaten up on the playground.)

Apparently British do the same [3]

  • This is actually fine as a short answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 15 at 15:00

"use to" is wrong, but that's what "used to" sounds like when native speakers pronounce it. We often slur the end of one word into the beginning of the next, and when the sounds are similar one of them disappears.

You'll find a lot of this sort of error when native speakers write. No one taught them what the words actually are -- they just write down what they hear. Often with hilarious results (google "eggcorn" if you have time for a rabbit hole)

  • 5
    "I use to {do something}" would be incorrect. But with do support "What did you use to do?" is correct. Moreover "What did you used to do?" is incorrect.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 11 at 17:55
  • 4
    Irrespective of how it is pronounced, plain form "use" is correct since it follows the auxiliary verb "did".
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 11 at 18:41
  • 1
    @crittermonster thank you for answering this correctly. I'm surprised how many people got this wrong. Merriam-Webster agrees with you, and so do I. merriam-webster.com/grammar/is-it-used-to-or-use-to : "use to in place of used to is an error." Commented Feb 12 at 19:18
  • @GarySheppard No MW agrees with me and Bill: We say "Did he use to?" instead of "Did he used to?" (but suggests there might be some allowance in British English) So this answer is, according to MW incorrect, at least insofar as AmE and standard BrE.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 13 at 8:41

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