"Didn't use to get" or "Didn't used to get"?



I just made a minor grammar correction on Travel SE, and another user said the grammar correction was unnecessary.

The original text was

Another factor--sometimes life happens and you can't fly. In the old days you could simply sell your ticket to someone else, now you either have to eat a hefty change fee or lose it outright. That's money in their pockets that they didn't used to get.

It was corrected to:

Another factor--sometimes life happens and you can't fly. In the old days you could simply sell your ticket to someone else, now you either have to eat a hefty change fee or lose it outright. That's money in their pockets that they didn't use to get.

  1. Was this grammatical correction an improvement?
  2. Was the original text grammatically correct?
  3. Is the edited text grammatically correct?

Revetahw says Reinstate Monica

Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 1 346

1I find the phrase clumsy, it may have been better to change it to "... they didn't previously get". – – AdrianHHH – 2016-08-16T10:44:00.670

1It seems didn't used to is acceptable only in American English, with didn't use to being the only correct form in British English. But [citation needed]. – RJFalconer – 2016-08-16T13:46:12.197

7The crucial point is that the verb is "use" - that is the infinitive form. When a verb follows an auxiliary verb like "did", as in the OP's example, it has to be an infinitive, which is why "use" is correct, not the past tense form "used" – BillJ – 2016-08-16T14:03:52.557

3As it's so vague, why not change the phraseology to one that is absolute. The phrase is not particularly good English as it stands, either way. – Tim – 2016-08-16T16:27:48.490

7@RJFalconer- I am British, and as far as I'm concerned, didn't used to is the only way. – JavaLatte – 2016-08-16T16:34:32.150

4The did carries the past tense. You don't need it twice just as I wouldn't say: I did brushed my teeth this morning. – shawnt00 – 2016-08-16T16:48:22.103

2@JavaLatte On what grounds to you make that assertion? – BillJ – 2016-08-16T17:33:12.900

4@Tim, didn't use(d) to is informal. As I mention in my answer, there is a correct, formal, undisputed way of saying the same thing, namely used not to. – JavaLatte – 2016-08-16T17:40:29.167

1@Fiksdal the problem with "didn't used to" is that "did" is an auxiliary verb, and auxiliaries always require the verb that follows to be an infinitive. "Use" is infinitive and hence is fine but "used" is past tense. You see what I mean? – BillJ – 2016-08-16T17:52:58.540

1@BillJ I personally tend to agree with you. I think "didn't use to" sounds way better. But English is only my second language, and the experts seem to disagree. This is much less trivial than I had initially thought, I wish I had posted it at ELU. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-16T17:56:21.387

1@JavaLatte That is very interesting and all, but as almighty OP of this question I am placing you under arrest for lack of compliance. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-16T17:57:25.383

1@Fiksdal Well, the basic grammar is quite straightforward really. There can be no disputing that the verb is "use". That is the basic/infinitive form. All auxiliaries must be followed by an infinitival verb-form ("use", not "used"). The same applies with the modal auxiliaries: in "I can go" and "You must eat", "go" and "eat" are infinitivals. There is no possibility of using any other verb-form, which is precisely why "I didn't used to smoke" is wrong. – BillJ – 2016-08-16T18:07:07.793

2Where is the value to a new learner of English in this protracted slap fight? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T07:20:11.690

@P.E.Dant When I posted this I didn't know it was such a nuanced area. I thought it would be too basic for ELU. If I would have known what the responses would be, I would certainly have asked it at ELU. I suppose it's too late to migrate it now? I have posted about this on Meta.

– Revetahw says Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T11:48:16.197

2@P.E.D I disagree with the close reason. Learners don't want to see all this argument, but it's not the question's fault. Javalatte's answer demonstrates that this question can get an appropriate answer, so where's the benefit in closing it? – M.A.R. – 2016-08-17T13:47:28.040

3@JavaLatte I disagree. "used to not" would be at least as common, if not more so, at least in my experience. "I used to not like pistachio ice cream, but I've acquired a taste for it" sounds much more natural to me than "I used not to like..." – Kevin – 2016-08-17T16:35:12.703

@Fiksdal "Nuanced" is a very charitable characterization! – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T16:51:02.920

1@DEAD Considered and withdrawn – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T16:51:46.300

@P.E.Dant The subject itself is nuanced. People make it contentious. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T16:53:11.050

2This brouhaha has been in progress for decades. Everyone should simply adopt Lawler's proposal, quoted below by FumbleFingers: This should be considered a bug in the orthographic system. Then all should move on to a question which is amenable to a clear outcome. As it is, at the end of the day we have two groups shouting "Is too!" "Is not!" "Is too you big poop head!" "Is not you really big poop head!" – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T17:31:16.590

1Well, this is one where you can't necessarily trust native speakers because both would be pronounced the same way. – Casey – 2016-08-17T17:42:04.137

@Casey That boils the entire business down to a manageable size. Well said. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T17:50:33.577

@Fiksdal I haven't checked, but I'd be very surprised if this question hasn't been beaten to death with pitchforks at ELU already. This has been a favorite subject for years, and language enthusiasts throw it back and forth from time to time, sort of as a way to keep in shape, like boxers with a heavy ball. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T17:58:22.943

1@Fiksdal By the way, I've always avoided the problem entirely. I'm one of those who has always said "used not to" and this has served me well. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T18:07:36.040

@BillJ I don't understand your "must be followed by an infinitive" assertion. "use" is not the final verb here; "get" is, and "to get" is already in the infinitive form either way. (Also, I believe you mean that modal verbs must be followed by the infinitive form. Note also that on that page, "used", but not "use", is considered modal--which is how I would view the usage in this question as well.)

– Kyle Strand – 2016-08-17T18:16:12.637

1@BillJ Upon re-reading, perhaps I should have stopped after saying I don't understand, rather than made a poor attempt at trying to understand without just asking for clarification. – Kyle Strand – 2016-08-17T18:22:08.237

@KyleStrand Use : "I didn't use to go" :: Want : "I didn't want to go" – Casey – 2016-08-17T18:54:17.857

@P.E.Dant Yes, that works. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T18:57:50.557

@Kyle Strand Are you okay on this now? – BillJ – 2016-08-18T06:21:47.040

@BillJ No; do you have a reference for your statement about auxiliary verbs? – Kyle Strand – 2016-08-18T06:44:52.350

1@KyleStrand It is a fundamental rule of English grammar that the auxiliary verb "do" must be followed by an infinitive verb-form. Surely you are not disputing that? – BillJ – 2016-08-18T06:59:02.460

1Just avoid "used to" in written English. This sentence could be written much more clearly as That's money in their pockets they didn't get in the past. – Ben Voigt – 2016-08-18T14:53:15.350

@BillJ I wasn't really disputing anything, just asking for clarification. You said "All auxiliaries must be followed by an infinitival verb-form" (emphasis mine), and I don't think I've ever heard that stated as a rule. I won't dispute that "do" does indeed require the infinitive form. – Kyle Strand – 2016-08-18T16:44:15.443

1@KyleStrand Okay, that's fair comment. To clarify, it's the modal auxiliaries and auxiliary "do" that require infinitival complements. "Be" and "have" as auxiliaries don't of course. I should have made that clearer. – BillJ – 2016-08-18T16:51:22.513

@BillJ Confusion eliminated! – Kyle Strand – 2016-08-18T17:32:03.277



Both are acceptable (yes, I know I'm the one who said you were wrong), but used will induce fewer corrections :)

Various opinions:

English Grammar Today has this to say on this exact topic:

The negative of used to is most commonly didn’t use(d) to. Sometimes we write it with a final -d, sometimes not. Both forms are common, but many people consider the form with the final -d to be incorrect, and you should not use it in exams:

It didn’t use to be so crowded in the shops as it is nowadays.

I didn’t used to like broccoli when I was younger, but I love it now. (Don’t use this form in exams.)

In very formal styles, we can use the negative form used not to:

She used not to live as poorly as she does now.

Language Log suggests that used is preferred by English users at large (but of course as good descriptivists they offer no comment on which should be preferred...)

Over at EL&U use is agreed to be 'more correct', but is firmly in second place behind 'rewrite to avoid'.

BBC World Service Learning English is firmly use.


Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 345

5Just my $0.02. To me, common does not have bearing on whether it's correct. Ain't is commonly used as a substitute for forms of is not, but it's incorrect. Same here with used. – Juan Carlos Coto – 2016-08-17T05:13:46.387

10@JuanCarlosCoto Who exactly decides that ain't is not correct? That didn't used to get is wrong? Is that you, or your circle of friends or grammar school teachers or linguists or who exactly? And by what authority? And what if I don't agree with them? Is there an appeals procedure? – Alan Carmack – 2016-08-17T06:31:54.433

3@JuanCarlosCoto English is not a regulated language. There is no language academy or other body that rules on correct usage. Therefore there is only common usage. Some common usage is frowned upon (such as your example) but that is more for social rather than gramatical reasons. – user5505 – 2016-08-17T08:28:01.953

1If you want to avoid arguments over what is correct, you can almost always substitute "never used to", with virtually the same meaning, and none of the controversy :-) – psmears – 2016-08-17T13:01:03.517

For a moment I thought you said "I didn’t used to BE like A broccoli" – Muhammad Raja – 2016-08-18T12:59:32.173

1Maybe we have to get used to this usage ... – Hagen von Eitzen – 2016-08-18T14:33:31.903

1Most of your sources prefer use, and still you go with used? Anyway, It sounds as silly as I didn't liked to bake cake or I didn't wanted him to sing. Not saying used is wrong, just saying it sounds as silly to me as the now standard American use of I could care less (meaning the exact opposite of what is stated). – oerkelens – 2016-08-18T15:56:38.677

1Both forms are used, both forms are common, and in speech you really don't hear any difference between "use to" and "used to"; but people, including native speakers, make grammatical mistakes in English, which doesn't make them acceptable. The "correct" and "formal" form is didn't use to. Who says but used will induce fewer corrections? Where? At school? Online? In an e-book? In a science paper? – Mari-Lou A – 2016-08-20T22:25:00.383

If people start saying "he didn't went there yesterday", "she didn't needed it at that time" or "they didn't ate their breakfast" will you say that's it's also possible? It's a really bad thing to allow bad grammar to exist. "didn't used to" is absolutely incorrect and should be avoided, especially by non-native speakers. It sounds extremely silly and proves that you are an uneducated person, especially if you start proving that it is correct. Notice that the rule "*didn't always precedes the infinitive form of the verb*" applies to everything!!! – SovereignSun – 2017-07-04T08:21:56.777


Opinions vary on this one. Here is a quote from Garner's Modern American Usage that explains why it should be didn't used to.

It shouldn't be written didn't use to, although this point has stirred up controversy among usage pundits. The argument goes that didn't supplies the past tense, and the main verb that follows should be in the present tense, as it is in a sentence such as "You didn't have to do that." But used to is an idiomatic phrase based on an archaic meaning of use (to be in the habit of). The form of the verb is fixed in the positive used to, and is unchanged in the far less common (and still less accepted) negative form, didn't used to.

It is interesting that if you look in google books for didn't use to, you get to page 3 before finding any real references- ones that don't occur in grammar books. When you look at didn't used to, there are seven real references on the first two pages. It seems that some grammar book writers have a little bee in their bonnet about didn't use to, but ordinary English speakers go for didn't used to.

Part of the problem is that didn't use(d) to is informal: in times gone by, it was not something that you would normally write down. And if you say used to at a normal speed, it becomes use-to: it is quite difficult to tell whether there is a d there or not.

The formal way of expressing this is used not to. This NGram is picking up lots of false positives, but examination of actual occurrences seems to show that used not to was, and still is, more widely used in writing than either form of didn't use(d) to. Here are some examples:

Our princes used not to dismiss ministers who served them well - Bishop Burnet's history of his own time (1818)

Mind you, I used not to be, either. How not to murder your mother (2010)

One of the strongest arguments against treating used to as a standard verb form is the pronunciation. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, with the verb form of use, the s is voiced /juːz/ whereas in the noun form it is not voiced /juːs/. In I used to and I didn't used to, the s is unvoiced. It's definitely not a noun, but it is also not a standard verb form: it is something unique, and that's what upsets the grammarians.


Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 43 538

8It should be "didn't use to". The verb is "use" (not "used") , so that is its infinitival form. When a verb follows an auxiliary like "did", it has to be in the infinitive form, and hence it should be "use" not "used". For the same reason, in your example "have" is the infinitive form, not present tense. – BillJ – 2016-08-16T12:42:16.317

1@BillJ: The spelling "used" is employed for two different words, pronounced "yewzd" and "yoost". Only the former is really a past-tense form. The opposite of "This is the controller he used to activate the set" would be "This is the controller he didn't use to activate the set", but opposite of "He used to visit regularly" would not be "He didn't use to visit regularly". – supercat – 2016-08-16T14:20:00.197

2When the aspectual verb "use" occurs as a lexical verb, then "He didn't use to visit regularly" is the correct opposite of "He used to visit regularly". What else could it possibly be? The positive clause uses the past tense form "used", and the negative clause uses the infinitive "use", since it is following the auxiliary verb "did" – BillJ – 2016-08-16T14:34:14.633

1@BillJ: I would suggest that in the sentence "He used to visit regularly", the verb is "used to". See my answer. Basically, I would say that in speaking there's a word pronounced "yoostoo" which is written as though it's two words, "used to". In spoken English, the same word is used in the sentence "He didn't yoostoo do that"; the only question is whether the orthography should change to indicate tense. – supercat – 2016-08-16T14:40:59.437

1@supercat. The "to" is a subordinator; it belongs with the clause that is complement to "use": "I used [to smoke]". The pronunciation is tricky, as I mentioned in my answer, since used to is pronounced with a single /t/ and hence is homophonous with the use to in "He didn't use to smoke" – BillJ – 2016-08-16T14:51:22.483

@BillJ: In the answer "I used to", what does the "to" belong with? In constructs where an infinitive is included in question and omitted from an answer, the "to" would be omitted likewise "Here's the screwdriver I used". I would suggest that in spoken English, "yoostoo" functions as a single word. The fact that the orthographic representation includes a space doesn't change its function. – supercat – 2016-08-16T14:59:10.453

1@supercat I don't agree. I just explained "to". There is no change of function; "to" is a subordinator, a marker for VPs of infinitival clause – BillJ – 2016-08-16T15:06:10.923

Okay, let's do the same with all idioms. That's complete nonsense. "Used to" isn't an idiom. Most grammar books I read say that it's a modal verb "use to" and in the negative the correct form is "didn't use to" and no way should it be "didn't used to"! Don't teach learners bad grammar! – SovereignSun – 2017-07-04T08:13:20.027

1@sovereignsun: most grammar books... That's exactly the point. There is a big divergence between what grammar books say (particularly those for ESL students) and what real people say and write. Read my answer again carefully and look at the actual references. If you still disagree, write your own answer, quoting suitable references. – JavaLatte – 2017-07-04T13:39:46.220

@JavaLatte I agree with but I'm entirely against such changes to English. I am a non-native speaker of course but I've always had the same feelings towards my own language. I hate changes that don't do good. Credible sources include both what is done and what should be done. – SovereignSun – 2017-07-04T13:46:10.417


As has been pointed out by others, the "logical" argument for I didn't use to do that is that did already carries the verb tense, so it's not needed in used. Same as, for example, I didn't have to do that.

But as this NGram shows, usage has changed considerably over the past century and more...

enter image description here

Unsurprisingly therefore, you'll find plenty of traditionalist grammarians defending the older style (which is completely inaudible in normal speech anyway). But it's pretty obvious which version has the upper hand today, so I suggest you go with that unless you want to look like an old fuddy-duddy.

As pointed out by John Lawler in an ELU answer on this topic...

Both [spellings] look bad, the first because used looks like a misspelled infinitive,and the second because use to doesn't look like it sounds like used to should.
This should be considered a bug in the orthographic system.

It's worth noting parallels between the voiced and unvoiced versions of used to / have to. In both cases the unvoiced version has a totally different meaning (relating to habitual action / obligation, rather than employment / ownership). If you'd never seen written English, you'd naturally classify the voiced/unvoiced versions as different words, not different pronunciations of "the same" words.

Interestingly, the "special" version of have to actually does have two different pronunciations itself (past tense I had to go then is pronounced hat; in present tense I have to go now it's haff). There's no such split with used to because in semantic terms it's always "past tense" anyway. And since language use is primarily driven by spoken rather than written forms, this is essentially why people increasingly tend to ignore the pedagogic / logical arguments and stick with used to in all contexts.

FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica

Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 52 587

I thought the string "did not use to" might appear in many sentences without the meaning of "didn't use(d) to." Another ngram with apostrophes in place—based on the technique Mark Liberman employed to quash "nor'easter"—is here. It gives a similar result, though. Also, I am all in favor of your new icon.

– P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-16T18:49:18.143

1Bear in mind that NGram reflects written usages. In the past, people would say didn't use(d) to but would write used not to. The rise shown from the 1970s onwards may simply reflect the rise in usage of informal expressions in writing. Or maybe the rise is caused by the plethora of grammarians banging on about this issue... – JavaLatte – 2016-08-16T18:55:19.137

2@JavaLatte: I specifically pointed out that the distinction is *completely inaudible in normal speech*, so we're *only* talking about the orthography here. And if grammarians bang on about how it should be written, obviously they would all endorse the "logical" principle (besides which, grammarians also always endorse historically-established usage over emerging variations). The rise must be caused by what "ordinary people" write, *in spite of grammarians*. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T11:55:02.940

@FumbleFingers: If typical readers shown two sentences would routinely understand the first at first glance, and would stumble on the second, I would suggest that's a sign that the first is, if anything, superior to the second. Having the spelling of "yoosta" change based upon tense when the pronunciation doesn't, may make it more "grammatically correct", but it would also make it more likely to require readers to mis-parse the sentence on their first pass. – supercat – 2016-08-17T14:33:41.177

@cupercat: I find it impossible to believe that any native speaker (who could actually read) could have any problem understanding *I did used/use to like John, but not any more* regardless of the orthography. A few might have strong opinions on how it should be written, but as John Lawler points out in an ELU answer *both look bad, the first because used looks like a misspelled infinitive,and the second because use to doesn't look like it sounds like used to should. This should be considered a bug in the orthographic system.*

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T14:50:31.483

@JavaLatte: This NGram strongly suggests there was never a time in the past when people significantly preferred *used not to like* over *did not use/used to like*. We're *only* talking here about the spelling of the latter option.

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T14:56:50.850


The original text was incorrect. You were right.

It's tricky for two reasons, I think.

  1. In speaking, the d and t of "used to" merge into a single sound: /juːstuː/
  2. "Used to" is a standard idiom that we very rarely analyse or rearrange. In reality, the "to" belongs to the object (an infinitive) of the verb "used", but we tend to see it as belonging to the "used to" idiom.

I used to get money

I did not use to get money

So let's take the "to [X]" away from "used to [X]", like so:

I used [snip]

I did not use [snip]

Clearly, "use" (not "used") is correct in the latter. Compare:

I used shampoo

I did not use shampoo

Tim Pederick

Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 6 267

Although I appreciate the arguments in here and can see that "use to" might be argued to be the correct form, I think the idiom has become so well used that "didn't use to" would often be interpreted as incorrect, while "didn't used to" would attract far less comment. I don't think the comparison with "used shampoo" is helpful here - as that sense is about usage of a particular thing, rather than the sense used in the OP where "used to" describes past actions or habits. I agree that in the "use shampoo" example the equivalent "I did not used shampoo" would be absolutely wrong. – J Richard Snape – 2016-08-16T12:01:56.680

@JRichardSnape: I admit that I had never before seen it argued that "used to" has become petrified. Nevertheless, I stand by my answer; if both choices are going to be controversial, I don't see why we shouldn't go for the form that's grammatically consistent (hence my "shampoo" example). And etymologically, "used [to have]" and "used [shampoo]" are the same word. – Tim Pederick – 2016-08-16T12:09:44.227

3I don't agree. It should be "didn't use to". The verb is "use" (not "used"), so that is its infinitival form. Any verb following an auxiliary like "did" has to be in the infinitive form, and hence it should be "use" not "used". – BillJ – 2016-08-16T12:49:19.253

I think "used to" in the indicated sense is an atomic phrase. Imagine if the questions "Where's the key you used to open the door?" and "Do you go their often?" were answered "Here's the key I used to" and "I used". I think clearly the former construction only accepts the "to" in the presence of the latter verb, while the latter requires "to" even in the absence of the latter verb. – supercat – 2016-08-16T14:27:41.243

@supercat. That is a different "use", a non-auxiliary verb. This thread is about the aspectual auxiliary verb "use" as in "I used to smoke" / "I didn't use to smoke". – BillJ – 2016-08-16T14:44:02.030

@BillJ: In the latter case, I'd suggest the verb isn't "used" but "used to". If the verb were "used", then someone who smoked in the past but doesn't any longer would respond to "Do you smoke?" with "I use", rather than "I used to". – supercat – 2016-08-16T14:48:18.563

3@supercat. That is a matter of ellipsis, which we all use from time to time. Preposition stranding occurs in much the same way. A verb like "smoke", for example, occurs as a to infinitival, and hence the "to" is part of the infinitival VP, as in "I like [to smoke]". Nobody tries to claim that the verb is "like to", do they? – BillJ – 2016-08-16T15:03:26.250

Your 'shampoo' is a noun. You did not use 'shampoo'. Were it a verb it would have different connotations. Then you'd need to put "I did not used to shampoo". Since it's only a noun, the argument is invalid. – Tim – 2016-08-16T16:09:43.430

@BillJ: The sentences "I like bananas" and "I like to eat bananas" both use the term "like" in the same fashion; in the latter sentence, "to eat bananas" serves as a noun. Sometimes "to" can effectively serve as a pronoun for a noun phrase like "to eat bananas". A key difference between "like to" and "used to" is that in the former case it's possible to insert an adverbial construction between the verb and the "to", while in the latter case it isn't: "I liked very much to eat bananas" works, but I can't think of anything that could be inserted between "used" and "to". – supercat – 2016-08-16T16:31:12.357

1@supercat In "I like to eat bananas", "eat" is clearly a verb since it has a direct object "bananas" and adverbial modification is possible, cf. "I like to noisily eat bananas". The fact that "use" tends to resists such modification is due to its lexical and semantic properties (it is highly idiomatic), though the negator "not" is possible, cf. "He used not to like it". But, tellingly, if you enter "I used always to *" on Ngram, it returns plenty of examples. – BillJ – 2016-08-16T17:39:41.523

@BillJ: The "used always to" is interesting and illustrative, since that construct would change pronunciation based upon the presence or absence of a "d"; if used the constructs where present tense would seem appropriate, the form without the "d" comes across better. In the (more common) cases where pronunciation wouldn't be affected by the presence or absence of the "d", however, I think readers are apt to more readily recognize the construct with the "d" present. – supercat – 2016-08-16T20:02:46.893


The phrase "used to" may seem as though it employs the verb "use" with an infinitive, but it doesn't really. Consider the following answers to the italicized questions preceeding:

  • Where's the key you used to open the lock? Here's the key I used [to].

  • Do you go there often? I used [to].

The former construction cannot accept the word "to" without a following verb (the answer could have included "to open it"), but the latter construction requires the word "to" even without any following verb.

The pronunciation of the idiomatic phrase "used to" in the second answer is different from the pronunciation of verb "use" followed by an infinitive, and such pronunciation would remain the same even in the construct "didn't used to". Since the positive construction combines the "d" in "used" into the "t" of "to" (so it's not really pronounced), it's not clear from pronunciation whether the negative form keeps the "d", but many native English speakers would be unaccustomed to having the word "use" be employed as a verb while being pronounced like the noun.


Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 585


The verb "used to" and the verb "use" are two different words with different meanings. To confuse the two and claim that to "used to" requires the infinitive form "use" because it follows "did" or "didn't" ignores the fact "used to" is a completely different word. I say that the construction "used to" is a word even though it appears to be two words,hence the confusion and the understandable desire to correct the past-tense-looking part of "used to", but the construction signaling "a habitual act in the past" to follow it never appears without the "to"; therefore I claim that the construction is together a word in its own right. "I used to use shampoo" and "I didn't used to use shampoo", for example, are correct if awkward sounding. And very different in meaning from "I used shampoo" and "I didn't use shampoo".

I wouldn't use those constructions in writing, except in dialogue. "I used shampoo when I was younger, but I don't use it now."

David Farthing

Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 49

Welcome to ELL and thank you for your answer. Remember: our objective is to help new learners to master the very difficult English language. If you provide references to support novel theories of grammar and construction (e.g., that the phrase used to is "word" which comprises two words!) they will be more useful. The community will vote on your answer's usefulness. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2016-08-17T06:45:11.087

1I agree with your view that English has a single word pronounced "yoostoo" or "yoosta" whose spelling includes a word space. The pronunciation of the infinitive form is generally the same as for the past tense form, and changing the spelling for the infinitive form is unlikely to help a reader correctly parse the sentence. A reader may balk at "The shampoo I didn't used to use to wash my hair", but would probably grasp the meaning faster than "The shampoo I didn't use to use to wash my hair". – supercat – 2016-08-17T07:01:24.407

2This answer is fine. Ignore the pedantic welcome you got. The only thing this answer is missing is a comment by @BillJ saying that didn't used to is incorrect. – Alan Carmack – 2016-08-17T07:18:35.427

@AlanCarmack: The phrase "Didn't yoosta" would not qualify as formal English whether yoosta is spelled "used to" or "use to". I would suggest readers would be less likely to recognize "use to" as a spelling for yoosta, and would regard that as an argument favoring "used to". Grammar rules are best viewed as a tool which generally helps make things understandable; in cases where the grammatical rules would not serve that purpose, they should be overridden. – supercat – 2016-08-17T14:41:30.910


The original text is valid. My dictionary lists "used to" as (1) "accustomed to" and (2) "... express habitual or accustomed actions ... taking place in the past but not continuing into the present".

See "The New Collins concise dictionary of the English language", 1985 edition.


Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 1 440

2I don't agree. It should be "didn't use to". The verb is "use" (not "used"), so that is its infinitival form. Any verb following an auxiliary like "did" has to be in the infinitive form, and hence it should be "use" not "used". – BillJ – 2016-08-16T12:46:21.723

1@BillJ Please read the other answers, they write words like "Opinions vary" and "Both are acceptable". My answer says the "used to" form is valid and I give some justification. I have not said it is the only correct form. – AdrianHHH – 2016-08-16T13:02:01.410

The "used" form is not valid. Sorry, but it is flat wrong. In the OP's example "use" follows an auxiliary ("did") so it must be the infinitival "use". It can't possibly be anything else. Please see my answer. – BillJ – 2016-08-16T13:08:42.503

2I will concede, though, that the spelling "used" is sometimes found instead of "use" in negative and inverted constructions, but that doesn't make it right. – BillJ – 2016-08-16T13:28:56.113

2I don't see how this citation answers the question. Everyone agrees about the meaning of "used to" by itself; the question is about how adding the word "didn't" before this expression might change its spelling. – sumelic – 2016-08-17T06:06:17.917

@sumelic There is nothing in the original question about the status of the word "didn't". The original question is about "used" versus "use". Many of the answers here say that the presence of the word "didn't" is important in determining whether "used" versus "use" is correct. My answer shows that "used to" is considered as a word even though it contains a space. – AdrianHHH – 2016-08-17T08:38:45.283

1The question is called "Didn't use to get" or "Didn't used to get"?" and every time the word "use" or "used" appears it is preceded by "didn't." I think that's relevant. Thanks for explaining your argument in a bit more detail. It does seem possible that "used to" should be considered one word, but I didn't understand that from your post. Don't dictionaries list some phrases as well as single words? And I'm not sure about the rest of your argument: even if "used to" is a single word, why can't it inflect like other verbs in English (which are also single words)? – sumelic – 2016-08-17T08:44:31.530


"That's money in their pockets that they didn't used /use to get".

Only ".. that they didn't use to get" is correct. The uncertainty probably arises because "used to" is pronounced with a single /t/ and hence is homophonous with the "use to" in “they didn’t use to get”.

The aspectual verb "use" has no present tense, only infinitival and past forms, so although the form "use" appears to be a present tense form, it is in fact the infinitival form which is only used in negatives and with inversion: "they didn’t use to get"; "did they use to get"? Note that the auxiliary verb “do” requires the verb that follows it to be an infinitive, hence “use”, not “used”.

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

Lexical Use (infinitival verb-form and do-support required in negatives and questions):

"they used to get".

"they didn’t use to get".

"Did they use to get"?

Auxiliary Use (past tense verb-form, no do-support required):

"they used to get".

%"they usedn’t to get".

%"used they to get"?

(Note: % = grammatical in some dialects only)


Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 9 994

They didn't USE to get? What did they USE the money for? Used is past tense in verb form. Used to is the correct way! – Tim – 2016-08-16T16:11:55.260

2@Tim The base verb is "use", so that is clearly the infinitive. Any verb following an auxiliary has to be in the infinitive form. Since "did" is an auxiliary verb, it follows that it must be the infinitive "use", not the past tense "used". – BillJ – 2016-08-16T16:23:36.480


The original text was correct: the proposed 'correction' is incorrect.

"Used" is past tense, so it is needed here. It is so hard to say though, that the 'd' is often "swallowed" when spoken, so many don't even know it's supposed to be there.

John Burger

Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 2 423

3The past tense in the compound ("didn't use to") is taken over by "did", though. "Use" reverts to the infinitive, not the past tense. – Tim Pederick – 2016-08-16T10:50:25.533


@TimPederick I liked your "used shampoo" / "didn't use shampoo" example - except that the word "used" in the OP's text isn't using "used" in the "usage" sense. See JavaLatte's answer http://ell.stackexchange.com/a/100682/36355

– John Burger – 2016-08-16T11:26:45.533

1Huh. I was not aware that this was so controversial! Etymologically, it is the same: the thing I use is my usual, my customary usage, and the thing I always used to do. Garner's may accept "used to" as fixed, but I take comfort from the fact that I'm not American and feel no shame in ignoring Garner's Modern American Usage. ;-) – Tim Pederick – 2016-08-16T12:04:25.117

3I don't agree. It should be "didn't use to". The verb is "use" (not "used"), so that is its infinitival form. Any verb following an auxiliary like "did" has to be in the infinitive form, and hence it should be "use" not "used". – BillJ – 2016-08-16T12:50:19.207


Simple, remember when you use 'did' the verb should be in present tense.

So, "Did not use" is correct phrase.

Similarly ---

  • I did not handle it properly--- (wrong: not handled)
  • I did not give it to him ------(wrong: gave)


Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 187

Making it simple was my target. I generally look for simple answers, the same I wanted to give to others. – Srekk – 2016-08-18T21:07:30.703

@Alan Carmack - Does this site has any clause that says answer should not be repeated. Not sure what is the concern. I was genuine in my answer. – Srekk – 2016-08-18T21:20:37.300


Neither: instead, change the target of the negation

Because "used to" is an idiomatic expression which does not, otherwise, reflect current usage over the verb "use" except when used atomically as such an expression (see @JavaLatte's excellent answer, including for the appropriate direct negation form), my usual recommendation is to avoid the controversy between whether or not to change the tense and instead to change the structuring:

Didn't used to get

easily becomes

Used to not get

This is also, in a sense, more overall correct. While "use" is a verb, in its idiomatic form it is not actually the main verb of the sentence. Instead, "get" is. "Used to" is instead an adverbial time marker that stands in for, essentially "in the past." It sets when they did or did not "get." So the negation applying to "get" is more appropriate.


In the past they did not get it.


Didn't in the past get it.

Hopefully the awkwardness if not outright incorrectness of the second phrasing by comparison to the first becomes more immediately apparent when using something other than the "used to" idiom. Personally, I find "didn't used to" along with "didn't used to" to both be similarly awkward, regardless of which one might be regarded as correct.

With this recommendation, the sentence would have improved in overall clarity:

That's money in their pockets that they used to not get.

I would also agree with the portion of @JavaLatte's answer covering "used not to," as it is definitely preferable to my ear and sense of structure than either of the forms using "didn't" if the intent is to negate the sense of past tense rather than the main verb of the sentence. But the related structuring is also, by degrees, relatively more archaic in tone.


Posted 2016-08-16T09:57:13.050

Reputation: 103