I used to work hard/I’m used to working hard (Phrases with ‘used to’)

by Kate Woodford


On this blog, we like to look at words and phrases in the English language that learners often have difficulty with. Two phrases that can be confused are ‘used to do something’ and ‘be used to something/doing something’. People often use one phrase when they mean the other, or they use the wrong form of the verb that comes after one of these phrases. This is not at all surprising. Although these ‘used to’ phrases have different meanings, they both refer to things that are often done or experienced. If you find ‘used to’ confusing, take five minutes to read this post. It may all become clear!

I used to walk to the office in my old job.

I used to have fair hair when I was a child.

The first sentence describes something that happened repeatedly in the past (I walked every day). The second sentence describes something that was true for a long period in the past (I had fair hair). Note that phrase ‘in the past’. ‘Used to do sth’ is only used to describe the past – never the present. Just to be clear, then, these are the two things that we describe with ‘used to + the infinitive verb form’:

1 things that regularly happened in the past

2 continuous states in the past

Notice that we often use ‘used to’ to describe something that happened or was true in the past, but not now. In other words, we often use this phrase to describe differences between the past and now. The thing to remember is that you need the infinitive form of the verb here. Learners sometimes make the mistake of using the –ing form:

I used to swimming in the sea all the time.

Another thing to remember is that the negative of ‘used to’ is ‘didn’t use to’, without the ‘d’ on the end of ‘use’. (Sometimes people add a ‘d’ here, but in an exam, this might be considered wrong.)

I didn’t use to like olives when I was a child but I now love them.

Note that we can also ask questions about the past, again using ‘use to’ (and not ‘used to’):

Didn’t you use to go there with your parents when you were little?

The other phrase – be used to something/doing something – has a different meaning. If you are used to doing something, you have done it or experienced it many times. It does not upset or surprise you now. (Perhaps it did before.) Remember the verb ‘to be’ before this phrase and the noun or the –ing form of a verb after it.

Yes, it’s hot but I’ve lived here for ten years so I’m used to it now.

It’s hard work but I’m used to working long hours.

Note that this phrase can refer to the past, present or future:

She was quite strange, but I’d worked with her for years so I was used to her.

The new system is a bit tricky but in a week or so I’ll be used to it.

There is one more thing to say about the phrase ‘be used to’. It is often used with the verb ‘get’ instead of ‘be’:

At first I didn’t like getting up so early but I soon got used to it.










20 thoughts on “I used to work hard/I’m used to working hard (Phrases with ‘used to’)

  1. I have a cook book that was given to me when I visited England in 1978. In one of the recipes it calls for putting the batter into a “sandwich tin”. What exactly is a sandwich tin?

  2. Marjan

    you’ re welcome Dear Woodford.This is the least thing that we can do in acknowledgement of your no end efforts for us.In fact we owe you all.

  3. Alaa

    Thanks for simplicity in dealing with that piece of grammar.
    I need to know the difference in meaning between ” am used to drinking tea ” and was used to drinking tea ”
    Thanks in advance,

  4. JOHN

    Hey Ma’am… I’m glad This Topic emerged.. I’d Like You To Elucidate The Use Of This Present Form Of ‘Be Used To’ Which Is ‘Use To’.. For Example: I Use To Take My Bath Before DusK Every Evening.

  5. I have a question regarding this. If I say “Right now, I am going to the place where I am used to working”. Does this sentence mean that right now I am going to the place where I work at this moment or does this sentence mean that right now I am going to my previous place of work? I am confused because we are here in Indonesia always use this phrase “used to” to say something that we always do every day. For instance, we often use phrase like “I used to drink milk before going to school every day”. “Used to” in this sentence we use to emphasize that we always drink milk every day before going to school. Can we use “used to” for things that we like to emphasize in something that we do every day? Thank you for your kindly help. 🙂

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