The confusion over used to versus use to is largely due to the casual way we talk to each other. Unless the speaker makes a determined effort to say “used [pause] to,” the d at the end of “used” gets swallowed by the stronger t sound. Usually, when someone says something like “I used to read more,” anything from “use to” to “yoosta” is what we hear.
So is use to ever grammatical? Many authorities, including most of those found online, say use to is correct only in one special case: when it is preceded by did, did not, or didn’t, as in, Did you use to live nearby? or He didn’t use to be a writer.
In all other cases—i.e., most of the time—used to is the only option.
You’d think that would settle it. However, one finds dissension among eminent twentieth-century English scholars. In The Careful Writer (1983), Theodore M. Bernstein verifies did use to and didn’t use to, but adds that “employing use in this sense, though common in conversation, lacks grace in writing.” Roy H. Copperud concurs: in A Dictionary of Usage and Style (1967), he writes that with did and didn’t, “the form is use to, though such constructions are clumsy and best avoided.” But Bryan A. Garner, in A Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998), takes issue: “It shouldn’t be written didn’t use to.” And John B. Bremner, in Words on Words (1980), states flatly, “Some otherwise respectable authorities notwithstanding, the use of use to instead of used to is barbaric.”
The best advice is to rewrite. Instead of Did you use to live nearby? one might say Did you ever live nearby? Instead of He didn’t use to be a writer, how about He never used to be a writer. Such easy fixes are painless ways around a prickly mini-controversy.
Start the New Year right by fixing any of the following sentences that need it.
1. There are four times as many rocks than there were before.
2. A dollar or two are all it costs.
3. This phenomena is all too common.
4. He is one of those people who like opera.
5. It had already began when me and Juan arrived.
6. The decision is theirs’ to make.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. There are four times as many rocks as there were before.
2. A dollar or two is all it costs.
3. This phenomenon is all too common.
4. He is one of those people who like opera. CORRECT
5. It had already begun when Juan and I arrived.
6. The decision is theirs to make.
Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014, at 9:25 pm16 Comments on I Don’t Use Use To but I Used To