I was helping a friend proofread one of her essays on the short story The Lottery. She had written this sentence:

I think the lottery used to have a specific reason and represent something in the society.

I changed the sentence to

I think the lottery used to have a specific reason and represented something in the society.

I thought that, because 'used to' was not directly preceding 'represent', it should be changed to past tense. But after thinking on it for a while, I am just not sure. I can't seem to find a definitive answer and the question left all of my friends conflicted.

  • 1
    This depends on whether the lottery represented something in society or used to represent something in society. – Anonym Jul 28 '14 at 22:03
  • Good point. From what I understand of her meaning, I believe she is saying that it no longer does represent anything. So, because it no longer represents something, it should be "used to represent"? – user86537 Jul 28 '14 at 22:05
  • Use used to represent if it habitually represented something. Use represented if it, well, simply represented something without any kind of duration attached to it. Your friend probably meant the former and simply left the second used to out, which is perfectly grammatical. – Anonym Jul 28 '14 at 22:14
  • @Anonym Okay, so, leaving out the second used to is grammatical if she wanted that meaning. Thanks! – user86537 Jul 28 '14 at 22:29
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    I think both forms are perfectly valid. It all depends how closely you associate the two verbs, and how "far" the meaning of used to can stretch across a lengthy first expression. In OP's example, I'd probably go for the second version (with a comma after reason) because the two activities having a specific reason and representing something in society are too cumbersome to "weld together" under the influence of a single instance of used to. – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '14 at 22:33

The sentences come from different base forms (leaving off decorations like "I think", etc):

  • It used to [[have a specific reason] and [(it used to) represent something in the society]].


  • It [used to [have a specific reason]] and [(it) [represented something in the society]].

The words in parentheses get deleted by conjunction reduction. Either sentence will work.

The only meaning difference between them is that the first one presupposes that it no longer represents anything in the society (because used to asserts a past affirmative and presupposes a present negative), while the second one simply asserts the past affirmative and leaves it at that.
This is rather like the difference between although and even if.

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