I wrote this to my friends a few days ago:
(1) It used to take 5 seconds for me to reach Youtube, now it only took me 2 seconds to do it.
I used "now" to refer to the moment when I installed a faster connection hardware. I come up with this question, because I think the use of "now" in sentence 1 is informal and it is like a colloquial conversation.
I am sorry my friends. Back in those days I was taught (by my English teachers, non-native speaker) that now must use in present tense, so the use of now sometimes confuses me.

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    In your exact context it comes across as "not a native speaker" rather than "informal, casual, [careless, uneducated]". But I can easily imagine other contexts where now can more naturally be used to mean then, at the time in the past indicated by context. For example "Meeting John again last night after so many years was really weird! He always hated me before, and now he was chatting me up!". – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '15 at 18:49
  • OK OK. heheheh. Thank You FumbleFingers. I see you are always here. – kitty Mar 8 '15 at 20:07
  • Will you post your comment as answer so I can make a upVote to yours too. – kitty Mar 8 '15 at 20:31
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    You have to take your chances on ELU, kitty! I don't understand why you asked this here rather than on English Language Learners - but lucky for you, @sven has delivered the goods anyway! :) – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '15 at 23:28

The wording in the example you give sounds a bit odd to me. As Fred Bailey argues in his answer, "now it takes me only 2 seconds to get there" better conveys the idea that the particular task in question has a duration of 2 seconds any time you choose to perform it—if that's the point you are trying to make.

On the other hand, I don't see any problem with using "now" in the course of a narrative of past events—as, for example, in this extract from Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now (1875):

But the journey to Mexico was no longer open to him. H had repudiated the proposition and had quarreled with Melmotte. It was necessary that he should immediately take some further steps in regard to Mrs. Hurtle. Twice lately he had gone to Islington determined that he would see that lady for the last time. Then he had taken her to Lowestoft, and had been equally firm in his resolution that he would there put an end to his present bonds. Now he had promised to go again to Islington;—and was aware that if he failed to keep his promise, she would come to him. In this way there would never be an end to it.

Your example has much in common with Trollope's. The function of now in his paragraph is to bring the reader up to the moment being described in a narrative set in the past. Your example does something similar, describing what "used to" be the duration of the pause before you reached YouTube, followed by what was "now" the length of the pause. But in typical spoken or written English, we would express the idea either without using now at all:

It used to take 5 seconds for me to reach YouTube, but after upgrading the connection hardware I could get there in only 2 seconds.

or with now used to refer to the present moment:

It used to take 5 seconds for me to reach YouTube, but now I can get there in only 2 seconds.

Notice that the first of the two rewritten versions above leaves open the possibility that the improvement to 2 seconds of waiting time may not still be in effect, whereas in the second version it explicitly does remain in effect. Your wording involves the same uncertainty about present wait time as my first revision does. If you said

Whereas it used to take 5 seconds for me to reach YouTube [before the hardware upgrade], it now took me only 2 seconds to do it.

I wouldn't dispute the sentence's grammatical correctness, but I would still find it oddly focused on the first time you tested the duration of the pause after installing the new hardware, rather than on describing a permanent (or long-term) change in the pause time.

  • WoW. I need to take some time to digest your answer. Thank you Sven Yargs! – kitty Mar 8 '15 at 20:09
  • Now I see what you mean in your answer. That's very helpful! Would you mind if I keep this question open for one more day ? Some other users may want to post their answers. I hope to learn more. – kitty Mar 8 '15 at 20:28
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    In the right context, I think the original phrasing would work just fine. If we imagine, for example, that it appears in a blog post about how various updates and upgrades affected your computer’s speed, it seems perfectly natural to me: “So after the graphics card upgrade, about 60% of the loading time was shaved off on graphics-heavy sites: it used to take 5 seconds for me to reach YouTube, now it only took me 2 seconds to do it. But I still wasn’t quite happy with certain other things, so I decided to also try XYZ”. (“…for YouTube to load…” would be better here, of course.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 8 '15 at 21:10

You can hardly set yourself more into the present than by using the word now. I would write your sentence like this:

It used to take five seconds for me to reach YouTube, but now it takes me only two seconds.

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    Now can be seen as relative to the present time within a given narrative, which may not be the same as the real-time present time. Even longer, more specific phrases like “at this current moment in time” can, with a bit of goodwill, be shoehorned into such usage. I don’t think there really is a way to unequivocally make any sentence relate to the real-time present and not the narrative-time present, though, so I guess your statement that you can’t do so more than by using now is not incorrect. It’s just that now doesn’t necessarily mean that you will do so, either. :-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 8 '15 at 21:15

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