In this blog, we are going to explore how we express present habits and past habits in English. Habits are things we do regularly, or did regularly, in the past. The structures we use depend on whether we are describing a past or present situation.
Students often find that talk about past habits can be confusing. How can you express yourself correctly? What can you say to explain that a repeated action stopped in the past? Let’s try and see what you need to remember.
You can use this expression for past habits that are not true anymore. We form this expression by using the words used to and adding the infinitive of a verb (used to + infinitive). For example:
- I used to watch Masterchef on TV every weekend but now I don’t have time.
- I used to eat lots of chips when I was younger, but now I try to eat more healthily.
We use would to talk about repeated actions in the past. To form this structure, we place would before the infinitive of the main verb(s) used in the sentence (would + infinitive), for example:
- Every weekend I would play football with my friends.
- My mother would cook us dinner every night.
Most times, we can use would or used to without changing the meaning:
- I would cook for my friends every weekend.
- I used to cook for my friends every weekend.
We must, however, be careful about the type of verbs we want to use in our sentence. If we are talking about states, which we express using verbs such as be, feel, agree or believe, we DON’T use WOULD.
- He used to be a cook at a local restaurant.
- He would be a cook at a local restaurant.
- I used to believe that my father was a spy.
- I would believe that my father was a spy.
However, if you find these structures too confusing, you can always use the past simple. We use the past simple in the same way as would and used to when we want to talk about repeated actions in the past. For example:
- Every weekend I cooked for my friends.
- I played football with my friends every day.
When we talk about present habits in English, we use slightly longer expressions with used to. Let’s examine the variations below.
Be used to
We use be used to when we talk about repeated actions in the present. The structure is:
Be + used to + verb + ing OR be + used to + noun, for example:
- Harry is used to eating fast food every day.
- We are used to the school being cold.
We can also use be used to in the past, for example:
- I was used to eating out a lot.
- They were used to drinking every night.
We can use the negative before the verb ‘be’, for example:
- I’m not used to all the noise from the street.
- He wasn’t used to standing up all day.
Get used to
We use get used to when we need to express that we are becoming accustomed to something. The structure is:
Pronoun + get used to + verb + ing OR Pronoun + get used to + noun. For example:
- Jane is getting used to eating more healthily after her visit to the nutritionist.
- Kate is getting used to the baby’s needs.
We can also use ‘get used to’ in the past (as past habits), for example:
- I got used to eating more vegetables.
- We got used to his snoring.
Be accustomed to/ Get accustomed to
We use this structure in the same way as ‘am used to’ /’get used to’, and it has the same meaning. The structure is:
Be accustomed to/get accustomed to + verb + ing OR be accustomed to + noun.
- I am accustomed to eating only organic food.
- I am getting accustomed to his strange behaviour.
As we know, the present simple tense is used primarily for habitual actions (present habits).
e.g. Mum prepares lunch for us every day.
We can use the present continuous when we want to talk about annoying habits.
e.g. John is always spitting his food and I need to clean all the mess.