It is better not to use "used to" in questions or negative forms; however, this is sometimes done in informal spoken English. It is better to ask questions and create negative sentences using Simple Past.
USE 1 Habit in the Past
"Used to" expresses the idea that something was an old habit that stopped in the past. It indicates that something was often repeated in the past, but it is not usually done now.
Jerry used to study English.
Sam and Mary used to go to Mexico in the summer.
I used to start work at 9 o'clock.
Christine used to eat meat, but now she is a vegetarian.
"Used to" vs. Simple Past
Both Simple Past and "Used to" can be used to describe past habits, past facts and past generalizations; however, "used to" is preferred when emphasizing these forms of past repetition in positive sentences. On the other hand, when asking questions or making negative sentences, Simple Past is preferred.
You used to play the piano.
Did you play the piano when you were young?
You did not play the piano when you were young.
‘Didn’t used to’ is not wrong
REGARDING the TIME magazine subhead ‘Didn’t he used to be Ben Affleck?’ which was deemed grammatically wrong by the Editor of Mind Our English (Oct 30), I’d like to point out that it’s not.
I am including here the explanation on the usage of “didn’t used to” by BBC grammar guru Roger Woodham from the World Service’s Learning English page (http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv285.shtml):
Used to is used to describe past habits or long-lasting actions and situations which are now finished.
* People used to think the sun revolved around the earth.
* I used to take size 12, but now I take size 14.
For questions and negative forms, two forms of the verb are used – either the normal infinitive pattern after did (more common), or the past form used (less common):
* I didn’t use to take such a large dress size, but now I do.
* I didn’t used to take such a large dress size, but now I do.
In a more formal style, questions and negatives are possible without do, following the pattern of a modal auxiliary verb, although these forms are less often used:
* I used not to like contemporary dance, but now I do.
* Used you to play the organ in church before you became a monk?
Personally, I like neither “didn’t used to” nor “didn’t use to” and prefer instead “used not to”, but that is rather formal.
You will find many more instances of “didn’t used to” in everyday English, both in speech and print, not just in the American media but also in the British and Australian media.
It may be less common and sound off, but it is not incorrect.
Incidentally, I also have a query on an article published on Oct 12 titled ‘Possible Worlds’ in which Tom Hayton from the British Council wrote “If I was rich, I’d buy a penthouse.” Should it not have been “If I were rich” as this is a case of the subjunctive form?
– S. Anuradha
The answer to your question is that both forms are correct.
You can say
If I was rich, I would buy a big house.
If I were rich, I would buy a big house.
If he was rich, he would ?
If he were rich, he would ?
Nowadays, “was’’ is more common for the third person (he/she/it) but we still use “were’’ with “I’’.
The reason for confusion stems from Old English, which has some of its roots in Germanic (the ancestor of languages like German, Scandinavian and English itself, which is why we call languages in this group “Germanic languages’’). “Were’’ comes from OE “ware’’, which is similar to “w ä re’’ in modern German.
In modern German, “If I were/was you’’ translates as “Wenn ich du w ä re’’ (lit. “if I you were’’). You can see the parallel.
I hope this answers your question.
– Tom Hayton
Ah, and there are people that say the norm is ''didn´t use to" instead of "didn´t use to" because DID in itself means past.
Anyway, I made this post for discussion´s sake, thus I pass it to Dale and more advanced learners.
Here follow a link to see this reasoning; by the way, it makes a lot of sense:
Used to expresses the idea of something we did in the past but no longer do: When I was a child, we used to go to Scarborough for our holidays.
Using used to in questions and negative sentences can present problems. The usual way of turning a sentence like He used to snore into a question is with the word did.
This is straightforward in spoken English, but there are two possible ways of writing it. The more logical is: Did he use to snore? The alternative, Did he used to snore?, is becoming more accepted, but it still strikes many people as odd.
You can also make a question by reversing the word order: Used he to snore? But this is becoming less common.
The usual way of making used to negative is with didn't. But again, there's a problem with how to write it. He didn't use to snore is more widely acceptable than He didn't used to snore. You can also put not after used, although this is becoming less common: He used not to snore.
The contracted written form is usedn't, not usen't. You can avoid any difficulty by using never: He never used to snore.
For negative questions, you can say: Didn't he use (or used) to snore? or Usedn't he to snore? (the uncontracted form of this, Used he not to snore?, is rather pompous and old-fashioned).