I know that we use "To be+used to+gerund" for expressing something that's happening at the moment of speaking. But I don't know how to apply the rule with the sentence above. Do we always use gerund when "used to" is preceded by "to be" ?

Thank you by advance.

  • Note that with to be used to [something], the highlighted word is a preposition, not an "infinitive marker*. But the negated Past Perfect for the primary verb clause is irrelevant to the issue of why the subordinate verb clause uses being rather than be. It's exactly the same issue with She's used to BEING treated like that (NOT She's used to BE treated like that). Oct 15, 2019 at 11:47
  • Also note that "To be+used to+gerund" has no particular implications for expressing something that's happening at the moment of speaking. Sure - I can say I'm used to being ignored with "present moment relevance". But I can also say I was used to being ignored, which says nothing at all about whether I'm still being ignored (and continue to think nothing of it). Oct 15, 2019 at 12:12
  • Possible duplicate of Grammar Explanation for "be used to" Oct 15, 2019 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


Short answer

There are two main different types of to in English. One of these is the to we find in to-infinitive constructions (e.g. To err is human), the other is the directional preposition (e.g. I drove to the farm).

The English verb use(d) takes a to-infinitive as a Complement. The English adjective used takes a to preposition phrase as a Complement. If we want to use a verb after a preposition such as to, we need an -ing form of the verb.

The Original Poster's example uses the adjective used and therefore we need a to preposition phrase using an -ing form of the verb. The adjective used cannot take a to-infinitive as a Complement.

The full story

The verb use(d):

There is a defective English verb use(d) which describes a situation or habit in the past:

  1. I used to be a lawyer.

This verb has no present or past participles, and also no present tense form. This verb is completely different from the verb use meaning to exploit something. The former is pronounced /ju:s(t)/ and has an unvoiced sibilant, the latter is pronounced/ju:z/ and uses a voiced sibilant.

As can be seen from (1), the verb use(d) takes to-infinitives as Complements. It cannot take an -ing form of the verb:

  1. *I used to being a lawyer. ( * = ungrammatical)

The adjective used:

There is an English adjective used, which means accustomed. Like the adjective accustomed, the adjective used takes a preposition phrase as a Complement. It cannot take a verb as a Complement:

  1. *I am used [eat cheese].
  2. *I became used [eating cheese].
  3. *I felt used [to eat cheese].
  4. *He looked used [eat cheese].

More specifically the adjectives accustomed and used take preposition phrases headed by the preposition to. Note that this is not the infinitival particle that we find in infinitival constructions such as I want to sing. Notice as well that this adjective usually appears as the Complement of a so-called linking verb such as be, seem, feel, look. [In other words it appears as an ascriptive Predicative Complement]

Now those prepositions which take noun phrases as Complements, such as the prepositions to or of or from, can take -ing verb phrases or clauses (also known as gerund-participial clauses) as Complements:

  1. look forward [to Christmas]
  2. look forward [to celebrating]
  3. tired [of lessons]
  4. tired [of studying]
  5. shrank [from his work]
  6. shrank [from carrying out his duties]

Notice that these -ing clauses are not Complements of look, tired, or shrank, rather they are Complements of the prepositions to, of and from respectively. If we take a look at the adjectives used and accustomed, we will see that they work in exactly the same way:

  1. used [to French food]
  2. used [to eating French food]
  3. accustomed [to French food]
  4. accustomed [to eating French food]

The Original Poster's question:

  1. She hadn't been used [to [being treated like that]].

Because this sentence is quite complicated, it might be difficult to tell whether the item used here, is the verb or the adjective. A good test is to see whether we can substitute in the adjective accustomed accustomed instead. If so, this used is the adjective, if not then it is the verb:

  1. She hadn't been accustomed [to [being treated like that].

Although somewhat clunky, this is perfectly grammatical, and the meaning of the sentence is basically the same. This means that we are talking about the adjective used. As we have seen above this adjective takes preposition phrases with the preposition to. and as we have also seen, if we want to use a verb after a preposition like to, we need to use an ing form of the verb. We cannot use a plane form of the verb or a to-infinitive:

  1. *I wasn't used [to [eat cheese]].
  2. *I wasn't used [to [to eat cheese]].

For that reason, the following is also ungrammatical:

  1. *She hadn't been accustomed [to [be treated like that]].
  • 2
    Even shorter answer: There are two idioms with used to; both are pronounced /yust/, with an /s/, never a /z/. One idiom must occur with an auxiliary be, and it means 'accustomed to, familiar with'; it takes a gerund after the to of the idiom: I'm used to having dinner after 10:00 Mass. The other idiom does not use be, and it means 'did once in the past but don't any longer'; it takes an infinitive after to: I used to have dinner after 10:00 Mass. The first means that's your current custom; the second one means you no longer do it, though you once did. Oct 15, 2019 at 14:11
  • 1
    @JohnLawler Yes, absolutely +1. The first doesn't always occur with be though, does it? (Get, grow, become, seem, appear etc). Oct 15, 2019 at 14:32
  • 1
    Thank you for such details. It certainly made things clear for me.
    – Zhao
    Oct 21, 2019 at 16:59
  • @Zhao My pleasure. Oct 21, 2019 at 17:31

...used to being treated is like, used to + passive voice of 'treating'. In 2nd sentence,...used to be treated..., followed the passive form of 'to treat'.

It is more correct to say, One is used to being blamed... than 'one is used to be blamed...The relevance goes to 'ing' form in passive voice.

  • Thank you for your answer !
    – Zhao
    Oct 21, 2019 at 17:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.