Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Which is the correct way of saying the following sentence (if there is a correct version)?

  • "I use to be a hitman"
  • "I used to be a hitman"

I've read the 2nd recently in a book, but was sure it should be "I use to"

share|improve this question
Related: “supposed to” or “suppose to”? –  Cerberus Jun 16 '11 at 19:26
The correct way of saying this sentence is /ay'ustəbiyə'hɪtnæn/. The important part is that "used to" must be pronounced /yustə/, with an /st/, not a /zd/. This is true for the past terminative idiom in this example, and also for the different idiom be used to, meaning 'be accustomed to', as in the second clause in I used to have trouble sleeping, but now I'm used to the train whistles in the night. The construction that gets pronounced with /zd/ goes like this: A shovel is used to dig with. That's not an idiom, and not a constituent, either. –  John Lawler Jul 18 at 4:41

7 Answers 7

As reported by the NOAD in a note about the usage of used:

There is sometimes confusion over whether to use the form used to or use to, which has arisen largely because the pronunciation is the same in both cases. Except in negatives and questions, the correct form is used to: we used to go to the movies all the time (not we use to go to the movies). However, in negatives and questions using the auxiliary verb do, the correct form is use to, because the form of the verb required is the infinitive: I didn't use to like mushrooms (not I didn't used to like mushrooms).

About the negative of used to, the NOAD reports the following note:

Traditionally, used to behaves as a modal verb, so that questions and negatives are formed without the auxiliary verb do, as in it used not to be like that and used she to come here? In modern English, this question form is now regarded as very formal or awkwardly old-fashioned, and the use with do is broadly accepted as standard, as in did she use to come here? Negative constructions with do, on the other hand (as in it didn't use to be like that), although common, are informal and are not generally accepted.

share|improve this answer
maybe it's the Northeast, but I would expect that It used not to be like that. would be much less common than It didn't use to be like that. The NOAD are showing their British bias. See this American and this British Ngram –  Peter Shor Jun 16 '11 at 20:58
@Peter Shor The NOAD is compiled by American editors. –  kiamlaluno Jun 16 '11 at 21:06
the other, maybe more likely, possibility is that this entry in the NOAD is out of date. I am quite sure that "It didn't use to be like that" is generally accepted in American English nowadays, but it might not have been 15 years ago when the NOAD was first being compiled. The Ngram shows that in American English used not to occurred less than half as frequently as didn't use(d) to in 2008, and its use has been steadily declining. –  Peter Shor Jun 16 '11 at 22:31
It seems odd to me that "used she to come here?" is marked as formal (old-fashioned and awkward I agree with). The "used to" construction registers with me as being fundamentally informal. In a formal context I'd expect "did she formerly come here?" or some other wordier phrase. (AmE speaker) –  The Photon May 6 '13 at 15:51

The second form is the correct one, confusion can come that when spoken the sound of the d and t comes nearly together.

share|improve this answer
Some regional dialects/accents pronounce "used" with a "z" in this case, as is normally done in other uses of the conjugation ("used car"), allowing for differentiation in speech. However, when speaking quickly, or in other dialects, this becomes difficult or impossible. –  KeithS Jun 16 '11 at 16:48
Used to in this sense is usually pronounced with a /t/, even though it's spelled with a "d". –  Peter Shor Jun 16 '11 at 22:38

The second is correct.

Your doubts may come from another rule, that following the auxiliary did or didn't, the form use to should be used. For example, if you want to ask someone if they were a hitman, you would say

Didn't you use to be a hitman?

And the answer might be

No I didn't use to be a hitman.

or, as in your example

Yes, I used to be a hitman.

share|improve this answer
Not wanting to pick a nit here, but for the second answer, what does "didn't use to be" imply? –  Vaibhav Garg Jun 16 '11 at 10:32
No problem it's not a nit pick! This implies that the asker thinks the person was a hitman. "Did you use to be.." is more neutral "You didn't use to be.... did you?" would imply the opposite. –  z7sg Ѫ Jun 16 '11 at 10:37
Thanks for the response. What I was trying to say was that , while grammatically and semantically correct, the answer would probably be an indignant " No, I was never a hitman." Somehow, your version sounds as if the denial is not strong enough. –  Vaibhav Garg Jun 16 '11 at 10:47
No, I'd stay cool, or give you a bunch of fives. Indignation would only look weak. You're not going to ask your aunty if she was a hitman are you? –  z7sg Ѫ Jun 16 '11 at 10:53
@Chris No, it's "You used to", "He used to", "They used to". It is only the form with did that is "They did use to (be hitmen or whatever)" –  z7sg Ѫ Jun 16 '11 at 19:42

The second one is correct, and this is why:

"used to" means that the person originally had whatever characteristic was being described, but no longer has it. i.e. the person was originally a hitman, but no longer is.

The reason it is in the past tense, is because it is describing something in the past, something that no longer exists, but did in times past.

share|improve this answer

Use is present tense

Used is past tense

If you are talking about having been a hit man in the past, then obviously the past tense - used - should be used.

share|improve this answer

Tense should be the deciding factor. Used indicates past tense, in this case indicating that the gentleman was, at some point, a hitman.

share|improve this answer

It's 'used to'. There are no exceptions or negatives. Proper grammar isn't flexible. "Use" denotes something of use, or having been used. An object for example. Or, "putting something to good use."

When speaking of action, negative or otherwise, proper English (yes, American-English as well) is "used". "I used to have longer hair." "It used to be pretty here."

As for the negative, rather than used, you'd say, "It wasn't always this way." Although, people do (incorrectly) say, "it didn't used/use be this way."

Trust me. I'm a grammar Nazi. As were all the women before me and my young daughter now.

share|improve this answer
Please do not add personal and irrelevant comments to your answer. Please note that it's also a lot easier to read an answer if it is broken up into paragraphs. –  TrevorD Aug 4 '13 at 0:00

protected by RegDwigнt Aug 3 '13 at 22:00

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.