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In the above sentence I'm having trouble deciding between use & used.
If I go to verbalise it the d is definitely dropped, but that could just be a locale thing and written it would still contain the d.

The issue [for me] comes from the use of did to already set a past tense, so used sounds odd (whereas elsewhere it seems fine; "itusedto work by...").
Every dictionary entry I found of this verb-form of use used used for their example sentences, like above;

  • He used to go every day.
  • this road used to be a dirt track

But none of these were posed as questions nor was the tense specified with did or had, so I don't know if they can be used as 'it is always "used", no matter what'.

Some people recognise this in other structures where you drop the tense on the verb;

  • Did you kept-? Did you keep-?
  • Did you wanted-? Did you want-?
  • Did you found-? Did you find-?

(Interestingly I feel Had you found- to be perfectly acceptable, so maybe it's more that it's a question than double past tense?)

So, are they both acceptable? One over the other? Spoken one way, but written as the other?

  • 1
    There's no question about how it should sound spoken; it's /justu/ or /justə/, with /st/ rather than /zd/. The spelling is the tricky part, and you will see both ways. – Peter Shor Mar 21 '16 at 2:11
  • Mm, the question is about the spelling. I don't think people get pedantic over speech. But even to our agreement on the speech, maybe it's only shortened that way because the following word shares the letter 't'. I'm finding it difficult to pull a general rule with just these examples. – Hashbrown Mar 21 '16 at 2:19
  • @PeterShor I agree with you on the spoken part, but when have you ever seen it written "use to"? – Snoop Mar 21 '16 at 2:34
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    @StevieV: Look at the Google Ngram. – Peter Shor Mar 21 '16 at 2:36
  • @PeterShor Did not even know that there was such a thing as "Ngram" thank you very much for this. – Snoop Mar 21 '16 at 2:39
4

The uncertainty probably arises because "used to" and "use to" are homophonous, but in fact only "I used to go every day" and "This road used to be a dirt track" are correct.

The crucial point is that the aspectual verb "use" has no present tense, only infinitival and past forms, so although the form "use" appears to be a present form, it is in fact the plain (infinitive) form, which is only used in negatives and with inversion in examples like: "I didn’t use to smoke"; "Did he use to smoke"?

There is the added complication that "use" can be a lexical verb or an auxiliary one, though the books tell us that most speakers treat it as a lexical one. I suspect that’s due to the unacceptability for most people of the auxiliary use found in: %"Used you to smoke"? and %"Smoking usedn’t to be allowed".

  • I would argue that there is a microscopic difference in the pronunciation of the two alternatives, but likely not enough to be detected by most listeners. – Hot Licks Mar 21 '16 at 20:07
  • I don't have issue with I used to go every day, but more Did he used to go every day?, if I went to write this, I would still use used? – Hashbrown Mar 22 '16 at 0:37
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    No! *Did I used to go every day? is ungrammatical. Dummy "do" is an auxiliary verb and hence requires an infinitival complement (i.e. "use" not "used"), so it should be Did he use to go every day?. The alternative is to treat "use" as an auxiliary verb: Used he to go every day? which is grammatical but for many speakers, especially younger ones, is unacceptable. – BillJ Mar 22 '16 at 7:23
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    @BillJ But how do you know that the plain form is use and not used? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 16 '17 at 15:31
  • "use to" is totally ungrammatical for me... is it standard in any sense? If I heard "didn't use to" IRL (and, as you say, they're homophonous) I'd almost definitely parse it as "didn't used to" – M. I. Wright Feb 5 '19 at 2:35
10

English has two idiomatic constructions, both spelled used to,
and also both pronounced /'yustu/ or /'yustə/ -- never /'yuzdtu/.

One is the transitive predicate adjective be used to, always with an auxiliary be,
which means 'be accustomed to', and which can take a gerund complement clause.

  • I'm used to smoking three packs a day.

The other one, which is relevant here, is the past auxiliary construction
used to Vinf, which takes an infinitive complement.

  • I used to smoke three packs a day.

This construction asserts that something was true in the past, and presupposes that it is
not true in the present. That's why the two sentences above are close to opposite in meaning.

There are no problems with either idiom in real (i.e, spoken) language;
it is only in spelling that there is a problem, and it is an insoluble one.

In both cases, used to has been reified -- joined together into a single word, like to and gather, or may and be, are joined into the single words together and maybe. This happens all the time; it's how idioms are formed. In language.

But spelling is different. Most if not all English readers have learned that

  1. used is how the past tense and past participle forms of the verb use are spelled
  2. In a question without an auxiliary verb, one inverts the subject and auxiliary verb
  3. If one needs an auxiliary verb to invert and there is none, one inserts (and inverts) do
    (this is called Do-Support)
  4. do is an auxiliary verb that takes an infinitive complement.
  5. use is how the infinitive form of the verb use is spelled

But used to is the fixed spelling for the /'yustu/ pronunciation, in both idioms
(rather than /yuzd tu/, as in Shovels were used to dig this entrance tunnel).
So if it isn't spelled used to, it won't be pronounced or recognized right.

But, yet again, auxiliary do requires an infinitive complement, and used just can't be one.
The result is that while

  • /hi 'dɪdṇ yustə 'du ðæt/

is perfectly grammatical and ordinary spoken English, neither one of these ways to spell it is correct,

  • *He didn't used to do that.
  • *He didn't use to do that.

in the sense that a fluent reader of English is likely to trip over both of them. They just don't look right. This is a problem in the spelling system only, not the language. The language has no problem at all.

The first looks bad because used looks like a misspelled infinitive,
and the second because use is pronounced /yuz/, not /yus/.

The workaround is to avoid using used to in sentences with Do-Support -- but only in writing.

  • For most speakers aspectual "use" is a lexical verb. For me it doesn't have auxiliary behaviour at all, so it can't be an auxiliary; it all depends on whether you can say "Used you to live near here?" and "It usedn't to be allowed", because that's what you get when it's seen as an auxiliary. I don't know why you've starred your last example "He didn't use to do that". That's an example of lexical 'use' and is perfectly grammatical. The usual cause of the confusion is because "used to" and "use to" are homophonous – BillJ Mar 21 '16 at 18:13
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    The last two examples are starred for spelling reasons, not grammatical ones. Neither one looks right as the correct spelling for the grammatical sentence /hi'dɪdɨn'yustə'duðæt/. As the OP points out, there seems to be no really good spelling, and that leads to less written use. – John Lawler Mar 21 '16 at 22:08
  • as opposed to just avoiding it, regardless of how odd it looks, which is [even if only technically] correct? I'm fine with writing things that look odd, so long as they aren't wrong. I feel that's the only way to get them to no longer appear strange in the first place. Did he used to do that? – Hashbrown Mar 22 '16 at 0:40
  • I'm not sure I buy the argument that "He didn't use to do that" doesn't look right "because use is pronounced /yuz/ not /yus/". There are plenty of examples in English where the same spelling has more than one pronunciation. I am quite capable of working out which pronunciation is correct based on context. "He didn't use to do that" looks completely right to me, whereas "He didn't used to do that" is clearly using the wrong form (conjugation?) of the verb "to use". – AndyT Aug 17 '16 at 15:22
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    If there are only two acceptable ways to officially spell it, and neither looks good, then one either avoids writing it in any way (however one may talk), chooses one or the other and sticks with it regardless, or picks one of the "unacceptable" ways, like didn't useta. – John Lawler Feb 14 '17 at 19:55
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In the latter three, the 'Did' places you in the past tense. You say "Did you find....?," not "Did you found.....?"

  • that's the point. I was using them to ask whether it's appropriate to use that same 'rule' for this form of used. So; is it? (not to mention you ignored Had you found, where had also places you in the past tense, but is fine) – Hashbrown Mar 21 '16 at 2:21
  • @Hashbrown: Don't confuse the past perfect tense (had found) with the past simple (found). Yes, 'had' does place you in the past, but when it is followed by a past participle, it is essentially placing you in the past of the past. Note that this 'past of the past' sense is not always literal, as taking a step back in time can serve other grammatical purposes, such as reported speech (i.e., 'had gone' is the reported form of 'went') or an unreal past (e.g., 'If I had known that, I would not have said anything', meaning that I did not know that). – Egox Mar 21 '16 at 11:05
  • @Egox thank you for that insight, it sounds like you have lots of experience with literature. I also think that your avatar is very... interesting... – Snoop Mar 21 '16 at 11:38

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