I've recently learned from a grammar book that in English we can use "would" to describe repeated actions in the past. Actually, I try reading a lot books in English, listening to songs, aticles from magazines, watching movies and I haven't faced with that people use "would" for describing repeated actions in the past. So, my question, how often you use that ? Or it's quite good to use the Past tense "I helped my parents in the store every school break" or "I would help my parents in the store every school break" ?

p.s. or in the example above it should be like "I used to help my parents in the store every school break" ?

  • It seems (from a rather untrustworthy Google Ngrams search) that this usage is increasing, at least in writing. Not at all what I would have guessed. Nov 24, 2015 at 17:43
  • This is a better place to ask this question: ell.stackexchange.com
    – Færd
    Nov 24, 2015 at 17:58
  • It's quite commonly used when people tell stories about what they used to do. For example, When we were kids, we would play baseball every day after school.
    – TimR
    Nov 24, 2015 at 18:01
  • @MJF why ? What the difference ? But thanks anyway
    – Vadim
    Nov 24, 2015 at 18:50
  • 2
    @MJF no, you're right that there are errors, but they're minor, and don't impede comprehension. Saying that, I'd correct the typo: aticles, it should be ARTICLES. As for not hearing speakers say "would", that's because it's often contracted, e.g. Every Saturday, we'd go down to the river and fish
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:45

2 Answers 2


Both used to and would can be used to describe habitual actions in the past. However, would is usually used only if when a specific time frame or scenario is given, whereas used to may "sound right" whether a time frame is given or not.

  • When we were in high school, we used to/would have parties in people's houses because we were too young to meet in bars.
  • I used to see him around the neighborhood. (But not: *I would see him around the neighborhood.--no time frame) (Adding a scenario like the following would make would fine:)
  • Whenever I walked my dog around the neighborhood, I would/used to see him.

Also, it seems to me that would emphasizes that the action stopped because the time frame ended (first example above), not because the person just started acting differently.

The framing of would is probably necessitated by its conditional meaning (e.g.: I would marry her in a second!)

  • Nice analysis of framing requirement. Btw, shouldn't that be e.g. in the last paragraph? And I don't get the conditional meaning of would in I would marry her ... . That's just future in the past, I think.
    – Færd
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:11
  • @MJF--It is the conditional use of would, implying "I would marry her if she would only agree." Nov 24, 2015 at 19:35
  • I can't thank both of you enough :) Excuse me, do the following sentences sound weird or wrong ? 1) "I would see him around the neighborhood every day." 2) "I would see him around the neighborhood for 5 years." 3) "I quite often would see him around the neighborhood when he arrived to ring in Christmas with his parents."
    – Vadim
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:39
  • 1
    1) OK if there's a time frame (not necessarily in the same sentence). 2) Use simple past (I saw him). 3) Good, but more commonly, "I would quite often see him..." Nov 24, 2015 at 19:43

I think "would" in that context means "used to"

  • How often do you use "would" instead "used to" in life ? What the word/sentense between those people usually use ? Both ?
    – Vadim
    Nov 24, 2015 at 18:49

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