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Where used you to live?

I’m an English teacher in France. In this question I am seeking confirmation that the following use of “used to” is no longer in use. I’m willing to be enlightened.

“Where used you to live before you came here?”

The form that I would employ is:

“Where did you use to live before you came here?”

My source is “Pratique de l’anglais de A à Z” by Michael Swan and Françoise Houdart. In this book they say that you can use either with or without the auxiliary ‘did’. I would not have been shocked by “Where were you living before you came here?”

The book is really very useful and well organized, but occasionally I come across sentences that seem (to me) to be archaic. The version I have was published in 1983. And before any of you say it, no this is not my only source for my English lessons.

So I would be glad of your opinions.

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In Michael Swan's Practical English Usage (Oxford 1995), which is almost my 'bible', he says that 'used to' can indeed be used as a modal auxiliary (ie without 'do'), especially in formal British English. Examples:

"I used not to like opera, but I do now"
"Used you to play football at school"

But he goes on to say that this use is rare. I certainly don't teach it to my students, and I can't remember seeing it in any of the (British) course books I use. Swan then says that in an informal style we normally use normal question and negative forms with auxiliary "do".

Advanced Grammar in Use (Cambridge 1999) says much the same; that these forms are used in formal spoken and written English, giving the examples:

"There used not to be so much traffic"
"Used you go to university with the Evans brothers"

So I wouldn't say that this use of "used to" is no longer used, but it is mainly to be found in more formal language. And my impression is that the formal negative form is used rather more than the formal question form. Raymond Murphy, in the Upper-intermediate version of 'Grammar in Use', gives the negative forms - "I didn't used to like him (or I used not to like him)", but gives no alternative to "Did you use to eat a lot of sweets... ?"

Personally, I wouldn't actively teach this more formal form to students (at least not below advanced level), but but be ready to admit it's possible if a student came across it in a book, for example. But they should perhaps be aware of it if they are doing CAE or CPE, or equivalent exams.

Warsaw Will November 23, 2012, 10:56pm

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“Where used you to live before you came here?”

“Where did you use to live before you came here?”

I find both these a bit odd sounding. I'd use

"Where did you live before you came here? "

I used to say "Used you to . . . " but I think I'd say "Did you use to . . . ?" now.

What about "Do I ought . . . ?"

Percy November 25, 2012, 5:10am

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Thanks Percy. I agree with you that "Where did you live before you came here? " sounds much more natural. However if I drop the "... before you came here?" then 'use to live' is correct - I think. At least I'm sure that I won't teach "Where used you to live?":

So I vote for both 'Where did you live before you came here? "
AND "Where did you use to live?"

Have a nice day (as the Americans say)

Thomas Smith November 25, 2012, 6:55pm

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But in what sort of situation would you ask

"Where did you use to live?"

without a time expression such as "before you lived here"?

Wouldn't you be more likely to say

"Where have you lived?"

Percy November 25, 2012, 10:10pm

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@Percy - re: "do I ought". I think we only have a choice between normal tense forms (with do) and modal modal forms with three verbs - the so-called semi-modals - need, dare and used to (but I agree modal use with used to is rare nowadays). so:
I don't need to do it (normal) - I needn't do it (modal)
I don't dare tell him (normal) - I daren't tell him (modal)
I didn't use to smoke (normal) - I used not to smoke (modal)

But with the full modals, which arguably include ought to, we don't have that choice - we can only use the modal form:
He couldn't do it
You musn't say things like that (spellchecker doesn't like that one!)
We ought not go there
although in practice I think we're more likely to use should than ought to in questions and negatives.

re:"Where did you use to live?" without time reference - how about, for example, in answer to something like - "We haven't always lived here, you know."

Warsaw Will November 26, 2012, 6:43am

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Disagree with all of the above in relation to "used to" and "use to"!

"Where did you used to live?" is correct. You cannot use "where did you use to live?"..."use" doesn't make any sense in that context.

As for "where used you to live"? This is just all wrong.

Speak England very delicious November 26, 2012, 10:21pm

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Sorry but you are wrong.

The reason that you think that it is 'used' is because of the 't' of the word 'to'. The word use is voiced from beginning to end, the IPA transcription is /juːz/ so because the vocal cords are vibrating the / t / tends to become / d /, a voiced alveolar plosive. Hence you think you hear 'used to live'.

Grammatically 'used' is the past simple tense and therefore totally out of place with the auxiliary, which is the word that is conjugated in the past tense in the form of 'did'.


Thomas Smith November 27, 2012, 5:12am

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Thomas, I'm not going to categorically say "you're wrong" but I think it's more likely that "used to" (past tense) has lazily deteriorated to "use to", with the words merging together and sounding more like "use to"....don't you think?

Speak England very delicious November 28, 2012, 10:32pm

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@SpeakEnglandveryDelicious - in TEFL we teach the following:
I used to live in London. - positive
I didn't use to like tea. - negative
Where did you use to live? - questions

This makes perfect sense, because the origin of the expression is the past simple of 'use', which use to have a meaning of 'to be in the habit of', and in past simple we do not use -d/-ed in negatives or questions, because we use so-called 'do support'. (I tell my students the 'd' is now in the 'do' word. Nonsense, but it sometimes helps)
I lived in London. - positive
I didn't like tea - negative
Where did you live - questions

The grammar is exactly the same with 'used to'. As Thomas Smith says, where we use auxiliary 'do', we don't use the final 'd', just as with other verbs in the past simple.
However, according to MWDEU, while using 'used to' in questions and negatives is considered an error in American English, some authorities allow it in British English. Nevertheless, In TEFL (BrE) we certainly teach the stricter version, without the 'd' in questions and negatives, but with the 'd', of course, in positive statements. My first reference, the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, seems to keep to the strict view (see usage note at the bottom of the entry). It also goes some way to answering the original question.

Warsaw Will November 28, 2012, 11:49pm

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It is difficult to understand the answer to your question if you have only ever spoken English. However, through studying Spanish, I have started to understand the difference between the imperfect past tense and the preterite past tense.

"Where did you used to live before you came here?" would be the correct form of the two (provided that you said 'used' and not 'use') because it is the imperfect tense, referring to something that happened for a period of time.

I like that you mentioned the possibility of "Where were you living before you came here?" because it stands in the overlapping area of the past progressive tense and the imperfect tense - in Spanish, the past progressive can always be a substitute (though sometimes awkwardly) for the imperfect tense. In English, however, this overlap may not be as large.

If I may extend this, unlike what Warsaw Will said, "Where did you live before you came here?" is incorrect, as it is asked in the preterite tense, which is only used to refer to specific points in time. In other words, you would be asking where the person was living at the point in time just before they 'came here'.

Big D February 4, 2013, 8:31pm

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"Where did you use to live before you came here?" Is the correct form.

(My source is 'Raymond Murphy' Essential Grammar in Use - Third Edition. Page 82, Section B.)

"Did" being the auxiliary verb it is conjugated and does the work of indicating that we are talking about the past. The verb phrase "use to live" remains in the infinitive.

The answer to the question might be:

"I used to live in Germany."

The verb 'use' now indicated the preterite tense.


Thomas Smith February 4, 2013, 9:09pm

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@Big D -"before you came here" is a specific time in the past; we don't have to have a specified beginning date. "It all happened before the war ", "She died before he was born", "How did people manage before electricity" are all perfectly good examples of Past Simple (what you call Preterite); "used to" would only be possible in the third of those examples.

What you call Past Preterite, we would call Past Simple in modern EFL/ESL teaching. This is equivalent to Pretérito Indefinido in Spanish.

English Past Progressive (aka Past Continuous) is exactly the same as Past Imperfect, just the latter is a more traditional term. This isn't so much a case of an area of overlap, but total overlap, as they are one and the same. They correspond to Spanish Pretérito Imperfecto.

'Used to' is not usually referred to as a separate tense, but as a construction, which can always be substituted with Past Simple (aka Preterite), although not vice-versa. It only refers to past habits, repeated actions and states in the past which are no longer true. The equivalent of 'used to 'in Spanish is not a tense, but the past of the verb "soler":

solía pasear por aquí - he used to walk round here
Antes íbamos/solíamos ir a la playa en tren - We used to/would go to the beach by train.

"Para referirnos a costumbres en el pasado hay que usar 'to use to' o 'would'. 'Would' expresa acciones repetidas, mientras que 'to use to' describe también estados o situaciones" (Word

We have two possibilities for past states:
"I lived in Liverpool before I moved here"
"I used to live in Liverpool before I moved here"

And three possibilities for past habitual actions:
"At that time I walked to work every day"
"At that time I used to work every day"
"At that time I would to work every day"

For more on "used to" and "would", see:

Warsaw Will February 5, 2013, 6:42am

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@BigD - I have vague memories that I was taught at school some fifty years ago that imperfect does indeed include 'used to', and checking Wikipedia I see you are right there, so I concede to you on that one. It is not, I think, a term which is used so much in modern grammar; it doesn't feature in the index of the aforementioned Swan, for example, and I had forgotten about that. Sorry!

It doesn't however, affect the main thrust of my argument, which I stand by.

Warsaw Will February 5, 2013, 4:18pm

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How times change! - I've just come across this, from a grammar book for British schools, 'English Observed - Common Errors in Written English', by Lancelot Oliphant, published in 1955.

" 'They didn’t use to do it.'
This is old-fashioned, but not incorrect in conver­sation. In written work it is better avoided. Write, ‘They usedn’t to do it’, or, ‘They used not to do it’. Note, however, that ‘didn’t used’ is wrong.' "

I accept that in more formal written work, 'used not to do it' is probably more common than contracted 'didn't use to do it' (they're about neck-and-neck in Ngram). But nowadays, I would say that it is 'usedn't to do it' that is seen as old-fashioned.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 2:23am

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Yes     No