When can I use them to talk about the past?

 The following video from Let’s Learn English will explain why and when these expressions are used when speaking about the past:

As the differences in usage depends on knowing the difference between active and stative verbs, now is a good time to review that topic!

STATIVE VERBS –Video from Espresso English

In the slide presentation below, review with examples, then practise by completing the sentences, and checking to see if you are right.


slides created by Alina Dashkewitz. Direct link: USED TO WOULD SLIDES


If we want to talk about things that happened repeatedly in the past, but don’t happen now, we can use would or used to + infinitive. Used to is more common in informal English:

We would / used to lend him money when he was unemployed.
• Tim would / used to visit his parents every other weekend.

We use used to but not would when we talk about past states that have changed:

• The factory used to be in the city centre.
• I used to smoke heavily when I was at university.

When we use would we need to mention a specific time or set of occasions. Compare:

• We used to play in the garden, {not We would play...)
• Whenever we went to my Uncle Frank’s house, we would / used to play in the garden.

We don’t use either used to or would when we say exactly how many times something happened, how long something took, or that something happened at a particular time:

 • We visited Switzerland four times during the 1990s.
• She went on holiday to the Bahamas last week.

from Advanced Grammar in Use, Hewings. 2002.

For additional practice, try this interactive quiz from


Listening practice with songs with this video from Mario Castillo:

Direct link to the video: USED TO-WOULD SONGS


About Michele

Energetic and passionate English (EFL) teacher with more than ten years teaching experience.

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