Which is the correct sentence, if there is a correct one?

I use to be a hitman.

I used to be a hitman.

I've read the second sentence recently in a book, but I was sure it should be I use to be a hitman.

  • Related: “supposed to” or “suppose to”? Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:26
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    The correct way of saying this sentence is /ay'ustəbiyə'hɪtnæn/. The important part is that "used to" must be pronounced /yustə/, with an /st/, not a /zd/. This is true for the past terminative idiom in this example, and also for the different idiom be used to, meaning 'be accustomed to', as in the second clause in I used to have trouble sleeping, but now I'm used to the train whistles in the night. The construction that gets pronounced with /zd/ goes like this: A shovel is used to dig with. That's not an idiom, and not a constituent, either. Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 4:41

6 Answers 6


As reported by the NOAD in a note about the usage of used:

There is sometimes confusion over whether to use the form used to or use to, which has arisen largely because the pronunciation is the same in both cases. Except in negatives and questions, the correct form is used to: we used to go to the movies all the time (not we use to go to the movies). However, in negatives and questions using the auxiliary verb do, the correct form is use to, because the form of the verb required is the infinitive: I didn't use to like mushrooms (not I didn't used to like mushrooms).

About the negative of used to, the NOAD reports the following note:

Traditionally, used to behaves as a modal verb, so that questions and negatives are formed without the auxiliary verb do, as in it used not to be like that and used she to come here? In modern English, this question form is now regarded as very formal or awkwardly old-fashioned, and the use with do is broadly accepted as standard, as in did she use to come here? Negative constructions with do, on the other hand (as in it didn't use to be like that), although common, are informal and are not generally accepted.

See also the Usage section for use in the Oxford Living Dictionaries.

  • maybe it's the Northeast, but I would expect that It used not to be like that. would be much less common than It didn't use to be like that. The NOAD are showing their British bias. See this American and this British Ngram Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 20:58
  • @Peter Shor The NOAD is compiled by American editors.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 21:06
  • the other, maybe more likely, possibility is that this entry in the NOAD is out of date. I am quite sure that "It didn't use to be like that" is generally accepted in American English nowadays, but it might not have been 15 years ago when the NOAD was first being compiled. The Ngram shows that in American English used not to occurred less than half as frequently as didn't use(d) to in 2008, and its use has been steadily declining. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 22:31
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    It seems odd to me that "used she to come here?" is marked as formal (old-fashioned and awkward I agree with). The "used to" construction registers with me as being fundamentally informal. In a formal context I'd expect "did she formerly come here?" or some other wordier phrase. (AmE speaker)
    – The Photon
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 15:51

The second form is the correct one, confusion can come that when spoken the sound of the d and t comes nearly together.

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    Some regional dialects/accents pronounce "used" with a "z" in this case, as is normally done in other uses of the conjugation ("used car"), allowing for differentiation in speech. However, when speaking quickly, or in other dialects, this becomes difficult or impossible.
    – KeithS
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 16:48
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    Used to in this sense is usually pronounced with a /t/, even though it's spelled with a "d". Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 22:38

The second is correct.

Your doubts may come from another rule, that following the auxiliary did or didn't, the form use to should be used. For example, if you want to ask someone if they were a hitman, you would say

Didn't you use to be a hitman?

And the answer might be

No I didn't use to be a hitman.

or, as in your example

Yes, I used to be a hitman.

  • Not wanting to pick a nit here, but for the second answer, what does "didn't use to be" imply? Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 10:32
  • No problem it's not a nit pick! This implies that the asker thinks the person was a hitman. "Did you use to be.." is more neutral "You didn't use to be.... did you?" would imply the opposite.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 10:37
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    Thanks for the response. What I was trying to say was that , while grammatically and semantically correct, the answer would probably be an indignant " No, I was never a hitman." Somehow, your version sounds as if the denial is not strong enough. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 10:47
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    @Chris No, it's "You used to", "He used to", "They used to". It is only the form with did that is "They did use to (be hitmen or whatever)"
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:42
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    Can we use 'use to' in simple present tense? Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 10:20

The second one is correct, and this is why:

"used to" means that the person originally had whatever characteristic was being described, but no longer has it. i.e. the person was originally a hitman, but no longer is.

The reason it is in the past tense, is because it is describing something in the past, something that no longer exists, but did in times past.


Use is present tense

Used is past tense

If you are talking about having been a hit man in the past, then obviously the past tense - used - should be used.


Tense should be the deciding factor. Used indicates past tense, in this case indicating that the gentleman was, at some point, a hitman.

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