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I cannot see any difference between these two sentences. I assume both express the same but what is the difference? I thought that "used to" is used to describe an action that was happening in the past...but should "live" be considered as an action?

I used to live in Prague 5 years ago.
I lived in Prague 5 years ago.

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There's something not quite right with this question, please take a look and take action; you could even delete it before others will early close it as an exact duplicate. –  user19148 Jun 22 '12 at 13:43
    
@Carlo_R: I don't know how you knew it, but you're right. This question was taken from this website, with trivial changes. (Although I think it was a good question, at least the first time.) –  Peter Shor Jun 22 '12 at 14:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There is no difference between the two. Both mean the same.

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They're not quite the same. Used to carries an extra Presupposition about the present, to the effect that if X used to VP in the past, then it is presupposed that X no longer VPs.

  • I lived in Prague 5 years ago and I've lived in Prague ever since.
  • *I used to live in Prague 5 years ago and I've lived in Prague ever since.

This can lead to interesting interactions with other presupposition triggers; for instance,

  • Carter used to be President.

asserts that he was President in the past and presupposes that he's not President now, whereas

  • Carter isn't President any more.

asserts that he's not President now, and presupposes that he was President in the past.

Since only assertions but not presuppositions can be negated, if someone were to say one of these sentences about President Carter and you said they were wrong, what would you mean?

  • In the case of the first sentence, if they're wrong in saying that he used to be President, then you're claiming he was never President.

  • In the case of the second sentence, if they're wrong in saying that he is not President any more, then you're claiming he's still President.

As ruakh points out, the stative nature of the verb live makes the durative used to unnecessary, but the real weirdness is the extra and probably unnecessary presupposition.

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Happened to find this post after answering this question (possible duplicate) english.stackexchange.com/q/126627/14666 -- Along with the 'stative-durative' difference, I thought there's also the 'customary' nature implied in used to that's absent in (did). The 'no-longer' part is indeed a "presupposition" but probably not a defined implication: People are used to understanding the phrase that way, but it is not necessarily implying so. –  Kris Sep 12 '13 at 14:05

Used to refers to a state or habit in the past, whereas the past tense describes an event at a particular time in the past. That means that the first sentence would be unlikely because a state or habit cannot normally have such a specific time reference. I used to live in Prague on its own is fine, but if you wanted to specify when you lived there, then the second sentence is what you’d use.

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Strictly speaking, both are correct, and both mean the same thing, but I think that "I used to live in Prague 5 years ago" is slightly awkward; for a verb like "live", the "5 years ago" makes the "used to" unnecessary.

Without the "5 years ago", or other contextual indication of time, "used to" would definitely be better: "I used to live in Prague", not just "I lived in Prague".

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