I read somewhere that "used to" usage is for "past habits" and "would" usage is for "past habits and states" and we should only use "used to" for states. Is this true? Suppose that we have this sentences:

Childhood (would)/(used to) be quiet different from what it is today.

People never (would)/(used to) be so worried about crime in this area.

What is correct forms of these sentences and why?

Ps. (would+bare infinitive) vs. (used to+bare infinitive)

  • 1
    "used to" can imply something existed in past which does not exists now. using "would" requires specific information about the event ...
    – Cardinal
    Mar 8, 2016 at 22:40
  • 1
    I might help if you try to locate the "I read somewhere" or find a similar reference. It doesn't make sense to me. Possibly do you mean "used to be" vs. "would have been", rather than "would be"? I don't read the past into "would be".
    – user3169
    Mar 8, 2016 at 22:43
  • @user3169 Destination B2 (grammar and vocabulary) book. Mar 8, 2016 at 22:44
  • "Childhood (would)/(used to) be quiet different from what it is today" isn't correct regardless of whether you use would or used to. "Childhood used to be quiet" is a complete sentence, but "different from what it is today" is just kind of stuck onto the end without any conjunction or other structure. To be correct, it would have to be something like "Childhood used to be quiet, which is different from how it is today." (How works better, because "childhood was" an adjective, not a noun.)
    – stangdon
    Mar 9, 2016 at 0:01
  • It just occurred to me that you might have meant "Childhood used to be quite different..." in which case the sentence would be correct.
    – stangdon
    Mar 9, 2016 at 0:24

2 Answers 2


In English there are special means of expressing a recurrent or permanent action in the past. They are used to + infinitive and would + infinitive.

Used to + infinitive has only one form — that of the past tense, which occurs in present-time- and past-time contexts. It generally serves to express recurrent actions, which may be either point actions or actions of some duration.

Here are some examples.

I used to meet him sometimes when he was working on the Chronicle here.

I liked reading in the garden. I used to take out a deck-chair, sit under one of the apple-trees and read.

Sometimes used to + infinitive with a durative verb serves to express an action giving a permanent characteristic of the subject of the sentence in the past. In this case, it implies contrast between the past and the present — what was typical of the past is no longer true at present. This meaning is naturally found in present-time contexts.

For example,

“I used to be as sentimental as anyone a few years ago,” said Ann.

Would + infinitive is more restricted in its application than used to + infinitive. It is found only in past-time contexts and serves to express only recurrent actions. On the whole, would + infinitive is typical of literary style.

Here are some examples.

She would often wake up screaming in the night.

He was usually active and interested, but sometimes he would have fits of depression.

Regarding your sentences,

Childhood used to be quiet.

This implies that our present-day life is quite different from it.

People never used to be so worried about crime in this area.

This means that those people are too worried about crime in this area nowadays.

  • I would interpret the last sentence as more worried about crime. The sentence does not tell you whether people's current concerns are well founded.
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 9, 2016 at 5:38
  • It's worth to mention that if we stress would the habit is found annoying.
    – Schwale
    Mar 9, 2016 at 11:55

According to Cambridge English Grammar Today, you use 'used to', but not 'would', to describe a state or situation which is no longer true. For example:

We used to live in Manchester.

We cannot use would instead of used to in this sentence.

As both the sentences presented by the OP describe a state, we should use "used to", not would, in them.

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