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I sometimes lurk on "AskReddit" and when people are telling stories, they often read like this:

"After I would cook dinner for us, we would sit at the large dining room table and he would make a point to ..." (Source)


"I was told a story once about a lady who [...] painted pictures that would reflect her depression. Her paintings would sell for a lot of money." (Source)

I always wonder about the usage of "would". As I have been thought in school, would is a modal verb that indicates a subjunctive. I never heard about the usage of "would" instead of "used to" before, although for instance this site claims: "Would can be used to talk about actions that repeated in the past. It is used in the same context as used to".

So my questions are:

  1. Is this a regional thing or do all native speakers use this form?
  2. How common is this? In which context can this substitution be used?
  3. Does it sound colloquial or strange to native speakers?
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closed as general reference by MετάEd, RegDwigнt May 25 '13 at 21:22

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Perhaps this is a question for ell.stackexchange.com (English Language Learners) – GEdgar May 25 '13 at 13:34
Oh, I wasn't aware this site existed. Thanks for the hint! – Michael Osl May 25 '13 at 14:44
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Using "would" in place of "used to" when talking about actions done multiple times in the past is exceedingly common in everyday speech. That's been true for me living in the western half of the United States. The British Broadcasting Company also seems to consider it very common.

As a matter of personal taste, I actually prefer "would" in many situations, as "used to" creates a weird rhythmic hiccough to me in most sentences.

Again, though, that's purely a matter of personal taste and style.

The two aren't perfectly interchangeable, though. As that BBC article notes:

"I used to live in Manchester" works, but "I would live in Manchester" — as a statement of a single event in the past — doesn't.

It's just fine to say something like "During summers as a child, I would live in Manchester with my Grandparents."

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You can even do the same thing in the present, with will: What do you do when you go out every day? Oh, I'll go to the park, or I'll sit in a coffee shop, or I'll watch the boats on the river. That gives a less definite feeling than I go to the park, or I sit in a coffee shop etc. – Colin Fine May 25 '13 at 20:49

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