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When we tell a story that happened in the past should we use 'used to' and 'would' for actions that happened regularly in that story. For example in the following what differences do the five forms have? And which one seem the most suitable candidate?

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who used to draw scorpions on a paper and showed it off to students to scare them off.

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who drew scorpions on a paper and showed it off to students to scare them off.

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who would draw scorpions on a paper and showed it off to students to scare them off.

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who used to draw scorpions on a paper and would show it off to students to scare them off.

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who would draw scorpions on a paper and would show it off to students to scare them off.

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Quite frankly the construction that I'd be concerned with first in your examples is "and showed it off ... to scare them off" The repetion of 'off' is disconcerting, and it might be better to say, "and showed them (the drawings or the scorpions- either way it's plural) to students to scare them off." –  Jim Mar 11 '12 at 22:36
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What @Jim said. As to what OP is actually asking about, there's nothing wrong with any of used to draw, drew, would draw - it's just stylistic choice. But the second verb needs to agree, so it would be show, showed for the first two. Possibly would show for the third version, but mostly we'd avoid the clumsy repetition of would, and just use plain show there too. –  FumbleFingers Mar 12 '12 at 0:14
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

When choosing between used to and would, they often mean the same thing. When that's the case, my advice is to go with the more direct option. In other words:

When I was a child, we would go to the beach.

is better than

When I was a child, we used to go to the beach.

For one thing, the word "used" can trip up the reader, because we use it in different ways:

We used plastic pails to build sand castles. We used to go to the beach.

So, in your case, I would use would, not used to.

As far as differentiating between would draw and drew, that depends. If you are referring to a particular event, then say:

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who drew scorpions on paper, then showed it to students to scare them off.

But if this was something your friend did regularly, you might say:

When I was in junior high, I had one classmate who would draw scorpions on paper, and then show it to students to scare them off.

(I don't think you need a second would, because the first would can apply to both verbs. Saying:

When I was in junior high, I had one classmate who would draw scorpions on paper, and then would show it to students to scare them off.

sounds a bit verbose.)

As a side note, you might want to be careful with the word "off." Sure, scare off has a slightly different meaning than scare, and show off has a slightly different meaning than show. But, using two offs so close together sounds off, and makes the reader wonder if either was necessary in the first place. So:

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who drew scorpions on a paper and showed it off to students to scare them off.

becomes:

When I was in junior high, I had a classmate who drew scorpions on paper, then showed it to students to scare them.

(A good way to improve your writing is to remove unnecessary words, then reread your sentences. If you haven't lost any meaning from the edit, then you should probably leave the words omitted.)

P.S. Your junior high classmate sounds like one twisted individual.

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@J.R.- One question, if I say: I had a classmate, who drew scorpions on paper everyday in the class. What is the difference between this and the 'would' form? Or 'I went to school everyday' vs 'I would go to school everyday'? –  Noah Mar 12 '12 at 5:11
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@Noah: No difference in meaning; it's a stylistic choice. If I said either "We would eat fruitcake every Christmas," or "We ate fruitcake every Christmas," people might question my traditions, but not my grammar. That said, you have a knack for giving examples that have a different problem than the one you're asking about. The adjective everyday (which means "commonplace, or ordinary"), is correctly spelled as one word (i.e., "carrying out everyday tasks"), but the adverbial phrase every day (meaning "each day") is always spelled as two words (e.g. "it rained every day"). –  J.R. Mar 12 '12 at 9:52
    
Thank you for pointing that out. You deserve more than an up vote. And I think, I need a punch in the face:) –  Noah Mar 12 '12 at 10:48
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