Used To or Use To: What’s the Difference?

In most cases, language is spoken before it is written down. The Internet makes this rule a little less universal than in the past, but the principle still holds true.

Sometimes, though, different speakers pronounce words and phrases differently. In spoken English, vowels are often simplified, and strings of consonants are often truncated or shortened.

Used to and use to illustrate this habit. Many speakers omit the -d, and simply say “use to.” However, written language is more formal, and writers must be careful to use the phrase correctly or risk sacrificing credibility over a simple misspelling.

What is the Difference Between Used To and Use To?

In this article, I will compare used to vs use to. I will give you at least one example sentence for each. Plus, I will explain a helpful mnemonic that will help you remember if use to or used to is the proper form of this phrase.

When to Choose Used To

use to be or used to beWhat does used to mean? Used to is an adverbial phrase that has a similar meaning to the adverb formerly. It describes a past action or state that is no longer happening.

For example,

  • Remember when we used to dance the foxtrot?
  • The ghost who haunts the attic used to live here, but then she was murdered.
  • Homecoming isn’t what it used to be. Tennessee will take a break – a big break – from the SEC grind Saturday. –Knoxville News Sentinel

Of course, used is also other parts of speech, including an adjective and a past tense verb. There are some situations where used joins with an infinitive to demonstrate the function of something, like in this sentence:

  • A center punch is used to mark a starting point for drills and other cutting tools.

Most of the time, though, used to is used in the sense where it is a synonym of formerly.

When to Choose Use To

Define use to and define Used toWhat does use to mean? Some writers substitute use to for used to as a synonym of formerly. However, this usage is incorrect.

When forming this phrase as in I used to do this, used to is the only acceptable spelling.

  • I used to be an architect.

-not-

  • I use to be an architect.

This below graph compares the usage of used to vs. use to in books written in English since 1800. It isolates their use as adverb phrases by searching for the phrases used to wait and use to wait.

Used to versus use to

Even though this graph is not exhaustive or rigorously scientific, it shows that used to wait is now, and has always been, the preferred variant.

Trick to Remember the Difference

gget use to itHere is a helpful trick to remember use to vs. used to.

If you are using this phrase as an adverb that means formerly, you should always choose used to. Use to is always incorrect in this context.

Used is also an adjective, and both it and use are verbs. There are conceivable situations where these parts of speech could be found adjacent to to in a sentence. In these cases, they do not form an adverbial phrase, and their correctness should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

You can remember that used to is the preferred variant since it is spelled with a D, and used to is definitely correct.

Summary

Is it I used to or I use to? Used to and use to are variants of an adverb phrase that is a synonym of formerly.

  • Used to is the correct spelling.
  • You should never choose use to in this situation.

If you can’t remember whether used to or use to is correct, notice that used to will definitely be correct, and that used to and definitely share a D.

To summarize, used to means formerly, and use to is a typo.