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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > The difference between "WOULD" and "USED TO" when expressing repeated actions in the past    

The difference between "WOULD" and "USED TO" when expressing repeated actions in the past



niksailor
Russian Federation

The difference between "WOULD" and "USED TO" when expressing repeated actions in the past
 
Dear colleagues and native speakers of English!
 
Could you, please, specify a strong difference between "would" and "used to" if there is any. The student īs books I studied mostly outline the basic difference which comes to the following rough statement: both of them are used for repeteated or habitual actions in the past but "used to" is used both with state and active verbs, while "would" is never used with state verbs. Is that correct? Is there anything else to add to this? What īs the difference between, for example, sentences like "He used to help his father in the garage" and "He would help his father in the garage"?
 
Thank you very much in advence for your posts!  

11 Jan 2017      



space
Turkey

hi
 
I am not a native speaker of English but I have tried to teach the differences recently.So I can say that the genaral rule about it is that we can not use would together with state verbs.
When I googled the internet with the differences I came across some examples in which would is used together with state verbs and it is explained that if the sentence is related to the occurence of another activity it is true that we can use it.
(She would think she was cool whether or not anyone else did or She would have an amazing tan by the time summer ended .These are the sentences that I found on the net )
To be honest, I couldn īt understand the difference so I just said that we cannot use it with stative verbs to my students.
Besides, in the information it is said that would is not used in question forms and negative when it means "repated action in the past"
when it comes to your sentence, I belive that there is no difference in meaning because in the first one it may mean he did it in the past as a habit, in the second one it is a repated action so in a way we can say that the meaning is the same.
Finally I can say that -of course may be native speakers of English can explain it better than me- we use would together with action words not in questions and negatives, but we can use used to with action and state verbs and questions negative and positive sentences.
I hope the info may help you.
 

11 Jan 2017     



niksailor
Russian Federation

Thank you very much for your extended answer, I really appreaciate your help!
 
Yes, as for questions and negative forms, we can īt use "would" indeed, that seems to be known and mentioned in most SBs.
 
Still, if there is a deep shade in meaning between the two forms felt at the level, how to say, of some inner intuituon, I kindly ask those who are in the know to comment on it. 
 
Thank you! 

11 Jan 2017     



yanogator
United States

There might be some difference between British and US usage on this, but here is the US perspective.
 
We generally don īt use "would" for repeated action in the past without some kind of time reference, so we wouldn īt say "He would help his father in the garage" as a stand-alone sentence. "When he lived next door, he would help his father in the garage". "Every time he visited, he would help his father in the garage".
 
On the other hand, "He used to help his father in the garage" works fine on its own.
 
Bruce 

11 Jan 2017     



Gi2gi
Georgia

Another "difference" I have noticed is that (and it is mostly for reasons of style, I guess) if you are referring to several repeated actions in the past, then it īs preferable to use "used to" and then "would". e.g. She used to read us stories in bed. We would all listen with rapt attention and then we īd close our eyes and fall asleep.   

11 Jan 2017     



niksailor
Russian Federation

Thank you all for your explanations! 

11 Jan 2017     



yanogator
United States

I wish I had thought of that, Giorgi. It is definitely correct.
 
Bruce 

11 Jan 2017     



67Englishteacher
France

What I learnt is the following:
 
- "would" to express a past habit (a repeated action indeed). Also more literary than the simple past.
- "used to" puts the emphasis on the fact that the past action is no longer valid today. It expresses this state of things more clearly than the simple past does. => "He used to help his father" = he no longer helps his father now

11 Jan 2017     



MikeyC
Spain

This is a fabulous explanation: http://www.learnersdictionary.com/qa/the-difference-between-used-to-and-would

12 Jan 2017