I understand what 'used to' means

What is the origin of the 'used to" as in "I used to go to Brighton".

I understand what it means but why 'used to'

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    It's unclear what you're asking. The "usage" sense comes from the meaning, which you say you understand, and why the speaker chose the words "used to" can sometimes be determined by the extended context but is generally something only the speaker can tell you. Excluding those two aspects of your "why" question, I'm not sure what that leaves. – Lawrence Sep 28 '18 at 9:27
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    The French "imperfect" tense, j'allais à Brighton could mean any of "I was going to Brighton (when it started to rain)", "I was going to Brighton (only I changed my mind)", simply a conversational "I went to Brighton" or "I used to go to Brighton (when I was a child)". English has found a way of distinguishing three of these senses of the imperfect - though I have to say, the French seem to manage alright though not having done so. – WS2 Sep 28 '18 at 9:47
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    In particular, please explain why the information readily available online, such as provided above, fails to resolve your question. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Sep 28 '18 at 10:13
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    @bookmanu Yes it is OED sense 21b(a), and has been around since the fourteenth century. a1387 J. Trevisa tr. R. Higden Polychron. (St. John's Cambr.) (1876) VI. 53 Englische men used [L. moris erat] for to goo into abbayes of Fraunce. "Use" itself is of Anglo-Norman etymology, but nothing is said of the etymology of this particular sense. – WS2 Sep 28 '18 at 10:46
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    Used to is a very complex topic. There are several idioms involved, and quite a bit of history. John McWhorter had a recent podcast about it, titled "The Habitual Past". Highly recommended. – John Lawler Sep 28 '18 at 15:12

It's a good question, and I think I can answer it best this way:

All aspects of human communication tends to get simplified wherever possible and as soon as possible, and ever-more rapidly; we want to get the message across as concisely (is) as possible, and so we leave out the more complex syntax, bigger words, words altogether, abbreviate, et cetera (etc).

Just as HAVE TO / HAD TO means something along the lines of, "It is/was a must and the expected thing to do", USED TO means something like "I was in the habit of doing it and I'm no longer (for one reason or other) in that situation (or predicament)".

(Note the 'and' in both phrasing above and see below*)

And so instead of the more long-winded, "I was for a significant period (in my current lifetime) in the habit of going to Brighton on a regular basis, and am no longer there,..." we just say "I used to go Brighton".

USED TO (semi-modal) ("use+d" means just that 'usage' + past. 'to' means 'for the purpose of') Like all modal and semi-modal verbs, they serve to indicate modality, and so they may also vary in meaning according to mood, by the way.

*The so-called 'phrasal verbs' tend to serve the same purpose, and often they are used to condense two actions into one. So, "I get up" means I awaken and leave the bed. "The plane has taken off" means that it started its trajectory and NOW (has) lifted off the runway, where "has" btw means nothing more than 'the current situation linked to a past event'.

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    Thanks, that's very clear. 'used to' in your example could have been "It was a usual behaviour of mine ..." – epoche Oct 6 '18 at 10:37
  • exactly. We can contrast: 'be used to' (something / verb+ing) meaning "have accumulated experience and have developed the skills for (doing) something), now or in the past. – Alex StJohn Oct 6 '18 at 11:02

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