The Difference: Used To vs. Get Used To vs. Be Used To in English

Nov 16, 2022 | Grammar

Note: This lesson was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated with new content including a video lesson and quiz.

  • I used to do yoga 3 times a week.
  • I am used to doing yoga three times a week.
  • I was used to doing yoga three times a week.
  • I am getting used to doing yoga three times a week.
  • I got used to doing yoga three times a week.

What exactly is the difference between these sentences?

They look rather similar, so they must mean the same thing, right?

Not quite.

With this Confident English lesson, you’re going to learn the precise differences in
meaning, use, and structure when using used to, get used to, and be used to so you get them
right every time.

And, at the end, I have a short quiz for you so you can test your know-how.

The Differences Between Used To + Be/Get Used To in English

Used To

Let’s start with a focus on used to – its meaning and structure – because it’s quite different from be or get used to.

Review these example sentences to see if you can identify the meaning of used to and its
grammatical pattern.

● I used to drink coffee, but now I only drink green tea.
● She used to live in Los Angeles but now she lives in Chicago.
● We used to go to see a movie every Friday night but now we prefer to stay home.

What do those sentences tell you?

By using the used to + infinitive verb (used to drink, used to live, used to go), we are highlighting past repeated actions or states of being that are no longer true.

Used to drink is a past action that I repeated regularly. But now that is no longer true.

Similarly, used to go is a past action that we repeated regularly, but is no longer true.

Used to live isn’t really an action. It’s not something you do. It’s something that is – a state of being. And, again, this is something that WAS true but not anymore.

Before we focus on the grammatical structure, I want to address two common questions on used to vs. past simple and the pronunciation of used to.

  • Number 1: Why do we say “She used to live in Los Angeles but now she lives in
    Chicago.” Can’t I just say, “She lived in Los Angeles but now she lives in Chicago?”
  • Number 2: What is the pronunciation – is it used to or use to?

So first, couldn’t you just use the simple past form with ‘She lived in Los Angeles…”

Yes, you could sometimes but let’s look at this scenario.

An old friend from high school reaches out to you online. You haven’t spoken in YEARS! And she says, “Your profile says you live in Chicago but I thought you lived in LA?”

To clarify what WAS true in the past you would say, “Oh, yeah, I used to live in LA but now I live in Chicago.”

This emphasizes that what was true in the past is no longer true.

And second, pronunciation. This is a tricky one.

In English, when we say the past form of the verb use, you’ll hear used with /z/ and /d/.

For example:

  • I used a red pen to mark the exam.
  • We used all our hotel points to get an upgrade on our room.

But when we combine used with the to, it’s kind of hard to use that /z/ + /d/ sound + to. It’s
difficult to have that strong /d/ followed by a strong /t/ in used to.

So, what you’ll hear sounds like use to with more of an /s/ sound at the end of used.

Used To + Infinitive Verb

In each sentence you’ll see we use: used to + infinitive verb form:

● used to drink
● used to live
● used to go

It is only used in the simple past form because it focuses on a past repeated action, habit, or state that is no longer true.

Be Used To and Get Used To

Let’s start with the similarities.

Unlike used to, which can only be used in the past form, be used to and get used to can be
used in the present, past, and future forms:

● I am used to doing yoga early in the morning.
● I was used to doing yoga early in the morning.
● I will be used to doing yoga in the early morning soon.
● I am getting used to doing yoga early in the morning.
● I got used to doing yoga early in the morning.
● I will get used to doing yoga early in the morning.

Not only can we use both in the present, past, and future forms but they also follow the same grammatical structure.

Be/Get Used To + Noun Phrase / Pronoun / -ing Form of Verb

Review the examples below to note the similarities in sentence structure. 

  • At first, it was difficult, but now she is used to the constant street noise at night. (Be Used To + Noun Phrase)
  • When her husband started his new job, he had to get up much earlier than before. It took a while but with time she got used to him waking up early. (Got Used To + Pronoun)
  • I will get used to doing yoga early in the morning soon. I just need to keep building my habit. (Get Used To + -ing Form of Verb)

To be used to = you are (or aren’t) familiar with or accustomed to something. It is one or the other.

● I’m used to waking early every morning.
● I’m not used to waking early every morning yet.

There’s no middle ground here.

That’s where get used to comes in.

To get used to = you are in the process of becoming familiar with or becoming
accustomed to something.

It’s not 100% familiar yet. But you’re on your way. You’re working toward it.

● I’m getting used to waking early in the morning. (I’m in the process – some days are
easier than others; it’s not a habit yet.)
● I got used to waking up early in the morning after a few months. (My process took time
but eventually, I became accustomed to waking up early.)

Practice with a quiz on used to + be/get used to.

Now that you’ve reviewed the lesson, let’s try a quick quiz.

Review the sentences below. Determine whether to use used to, be used to, or get used to and use the correct time tense.

You can find the answers to the quiz in the comments below.

  1. When we adopted our puppy, it was quite an adjustment but now we __________
    walking him several times a day.
  2. I _______ to have a strong accent in my second language but, with time and practice, I’ve made a lot of improvements.
  3. I need to lower my caffeine intake, which means drinking less coffee. It hasn’t been easy. I’m still ____________ drinking tea instead.
  4. He ________ workout every day of the week but after his injury, he’s had to reduce it to 3-4 days per week.
  5. It took several months but she _________ her new role and responsibilities in the company now.

Don’t forget to share your comments and questions with me below.

~ Annemarie

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