What is the correct way to convert "used to do" into a question? Since I want to emphasize that the action is not on-going any more, so simple past tense is not a good idea here. Could I say "do xxx use to do" or "did xxx use to do"? Both sound weird to me.

If there is no way to do it. Do you suggest any other alternatives?


5 Answers 5


Well, most of your doubts would be retracted after reading up http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-m_used-to-do.htm

I would like to summarize the main points from the webpage.

1) We use the used to do expression to talk about: - an activity that we did regularly in the past (like a habit) - a situation that was true in the past

For example,

He used to watch a lot of TV.

They used to be married.

2) Used or use? - when there is did in the sentence, we say use to (without d) - when there is no did in the sentence, we say used to (with d)

For example,

Did you use to smoke?

I didn't use to go swimming.


In principle, there's not much reason to think that the construction isn't perfectly regular, and you will find the following used:

Didn't they use to come here often?

But phonetically, "use to" and "used to" are practically indistinguishable and almost certainly not reliably distinguishable. In practice, you will see the following more commonly written down:

Didn't they used to come here often?

In speech, it's not really clear what percentage of people are 'really' saying use and what percentage are saying used.

The following slightly archaic forms also exist:

Used they to help you?

Used they not to help you?

Usen't they to help you?

Of these, usen't they is also used to form tags (albeit not so commonly as other forms such as didn't they, wouldn't they etc).

  • To anyone studying English who finds this confusing: They are so “practically indistinguishable” that even a native speaker of English can go through a significant portion of their life without realizing that the tense changes. (I didn't use to notice the difference.) As for why it changes - this is simply to avoid a double past tense. “Didn't used to” would be incorrect for the same grammatical reason “didn't went” would be. It's just one of those things you'll need to get used to.
    – Mentalist
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 7:51

You could just cut out the "used" entirely.

"What did you do?" It sounds much more natural, than used to, despite used to technically being grammatically valid. It may not work with what you are trying to use it for, but it's another option.

  • 1
    "What did you do?" does not mean the same thing as "What did you used to do?". With "used to" (or use to) it refers to an action that occurred more than once in the past but no longer occurs. Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 15:26

How about

What did you do previously?

  • "What did you do" is a single event. "Previously" makes no difference. Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 18:46

It's pretty simple:

What did you used to do?

What was it we used to do when Barney and his friends came over?

Did you used to do anything that could get you into trouble?

Did Marcia ever used to do anything so silly?

  • Robusto, Did and Used to don't sound that well together. I'm not very sure, is the construct grammatically correct?
    – n0nChun
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 3:59
  • It is the way I used it. Bonuse anecdote: Will Rogers, a homespun humorist of the early 20th century, would say things like "we used to dident (sic) ..." But although he was a brilliant satirist, he didn't need correct grammar for his act to work. In fact, correct grammar would have worked against him.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 4:07
  • +1 But really, it would be great if could confirm it's correctness with the grammar.
    – n0nChun
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 4:09
  • Confirm grammar? That's the sort of thing I used to do. Not anymore! :) Seriously, check the question again. I went out of my way and brought you a link.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 4:15
  • 2
    Your examples #1, #3 and #4 are directly contradicted by the example in your link: "Did you use to smoke?" Read the EnglishClub tip box.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 15:40

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