I was learning about difference between "would" and "used to" to talk about past habits and tendencies. My grammar book says that both "used to" and "would" can be used in this sense and often are interchangeable, but an important difference between them is that:

You can only use "used to", not "would" for past states.

As far as I understand, it means that I can't use "would" in this sense with stative verbs. Right? Then I took an exercise

I ______ wear glasses when I was a teenager.

a. would

b. used to

The correct answer is "used to" and we can't use "would" here. Is it because "wear" is a stative verb? Is it actually stative? On this and a few other forums I figured out that "wear" should be a stative verb, or at least most speakers claim so.

Nevertherless, "wear" definitely can be used in present perfect continues, for example:

How long have you been wearing glasses?

Whereas stative verbs can't be used in continuous tenses (unless changing their meaning).

And, finally, my questions:

  1. Is it true that in the first example we can't use "would" because "wear" is a stative verb?
  2. If so, why is it correct to use "wear" in continuous tenses?
  • 1
    See the following for would as past tense: The habitual past “would” versus “simple past” tense Sep 24, 2015 at 18:01
  • @Nathaniel I've checked your link, but I don't understand how it can help me, as far as I do understand the usage of "would" in this case. What I'm asking about is specific and supposedly stative verb.
    – Choksy
    Sep 24, 2015 at 18:10
  • I may be mistaken, but it sounds to me like your teacher is simply opposed to the use of would as past tense. Sep 24, 2015 at 18:14
  • Ok, now I'm beginning to understand your point. Probably I didn't explain it clear enough in the question itself. Let me change it.
    – Choksy
    Sep 24, 2015 at 18:21
  • @Choksy "would" would only work here if the meaning was "When I was a teenager I was addicted to wearing glasses, i.e all kinds of glasses, not specifically for medical reasons, but rather for style or because it is attractive, and then one day, I grew out of it."
    – Elian
    Sep 24, 2015 at 19:07

3 Answers 3


I would say your grammar book is wrong in saying possibility a (would wear glasses) is wrong and only possibility b (used to wear glasses) is correct. This gives a totally wrong view. Both are correct, but "used to wear glasses" is much clearer. The reader understands at once that you talk about a past habit. If you use "would" in a single sentence for past habits the reader may get on a wrong track as "would" has a lot of uses.

Mostly "would" for past habits is used in passages where the reader immediately sees that an author talks about past habits as in

After dinner my grandfather would always go out into the garden, sit on the bench under the apple tree and smoke a pipe.

Very often "would" for past habits is used in combination with "always".

See Oald, would no. 12: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/would?q=would

  • Well, actually it wasn't just one grammar book. I've googled this topic and carefully read several websites, explaining this topic.So the function of "would" is quite clear to me. For repeated actions (active verbs) we can use both: They would/used to come to our house on Sunday afternoons. BUT for past states (or stative verbs, or non-repeated actions) we can only use "used to": I used to have a dog when I was a child. I used to be very shy when I was young. So, what I fail to understand is if "wear" belongs to the first (active) or the second (stative) group.
    – Choksy
    Sep 25, 2015 at 4:45
  • On the other hand, stative verbs can't be used in present perfect continuous, demanding present perfect instead: "How long have you had this dog?" vs "How long have you been reading this book?" That's why I think "to wear" is an active verb, cause "How long have you been wearing glasses?" for sure is correct. BUT on this website and several others I read that "wear" is a stative verb. Well... In case @rogermue is right, could, please, anyone help to find an example of using "would" in a sense of past habit with "to wear"? I've tried to google it, but I could only find ıt in conditional sense.
    – Choksy
    Sep 25, 2015 at 4:54

Finally I did find an example of usage like that:

He would always wear exactly the same brown pullover and grey trousers.

And in terms of "repeated actions" it does make sense, because when you wear glasses or something else you put it on and take it off repeatedly, so you are not actually in permanent state of wearing it.

Going back to my original example, as far as I understand

I would always wear glasses when I was a teenager.

is grammatically correct, isn't it?

Thanks to @rogermue answer I realized that probably both options are correct, but I would notice that "when I was a teenager" gives quite a clear notion that the sentence talks about past habit, so I don't think "would" is so ambiguous in this case. Though, I'm still not sure if the sentence is ok without "always":

I would wear glasses when I was a teenager.

Is it?

I'm quite sure, that both following sentences are correct, but they have some difference in attitude:

I used to wear glasses when I was a teenager. (Just the fact)

I would always wear glasses when I was a teenager. (It is a lot more emotional and emphasize the typical, repeated action)

Am I right?



a) "I used to wear glasses when I was a teenager" means more "I had problems with my eyes, so I wore them", while

b) "I would wear glasses when I was a teenager" means more "I used to put them on", but now I don't" (despite the fact I (have to) use/wear them at prsent as well, I don't do that)?

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