Is it correct to use the modal verb ‘used to’ in subordinate clauses? For example, could I say, ‘When we used to go to New Delhi, my father and I would shop for music CDs’? Or must I reserve it only for the main clause and change my sentence to something like, ‘When(ever) we went to New Delhi, my father and I would shop for music CDs’?

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    Used to (in the idiom pronounced with an /st/ and not a /zd/) may be used in any tensed clause where it makes sense, main or subordinate. But it's not a modal verb -- it's a generic perfective (or possibly a perfective generic) construction, dealing with repetiion, past and present. Modals are a different matter. May 13, 2019 at 19:42
  • It used to be that I couldn't get used to all the discussions of the terminology used to describe subordinate clauses. Any more I just ignore them.
    – Hot Licks
    May 14, 2019 at 1:05
  • The implication of using "used to" is that you don't go to New Delhi any more.
    – Barmar
    May 20, 2019 at 19:24
  • @Barmar or have changed the circumstances in which you once did. When I used to go to the airport, I never had to take off my shoes for the TSA.
    – David M
    Oct 11, 2019 at 4:17
  • If 'used to' can be changed like "did use to, didn't use to, etc." it is not a modal, but a verb in simple present tense. He loved to...; He wrote to...He used to... should hold good. Thus, both sentences OP has exemplified, make sense.
    – Ram Pillai
    Feb 2, 2021 at 4:11

1 Answer 1


The usage is a bit off. "when we used to go to New Delhi" has the primary meaning of "the time in which we would habitually go to New Delhi", rather than "each time that we went to New Delhi" as you apparently mean. So it's not incorrect in general to use "used to" in subordinate clauses, but in this particular case it doesn't match the meaning you apparently intend.

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