'Used to Do' or 'Used to Doing'? What Is the Difference? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 29 May 2024)

Used to Do or Used to Doing: What Is the Difference?

English language learners are often confused by the concept of used to because it has two different uses that require different forms of the verb that follows. In this blog post, we will discuss the differences between used to do something and used to doing something to help clarify this common point of confusion.

Used to Do Something

When we use the pattern used to do something, we are talking about a past habit or state that no longer exists in the present:

I used to play basketball every daybut ever since I injured my knee, I've had to find less strenuous ways to stay fit.

She used to live in New York, but she's traded the cityscape for the quiet countryside since her retirement.

Chris used to eat a lot of junk food and rarely touched a vegetable, but now he's all about salads and smoothies after deciding to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Note that in each of the above example sentences, the construction follows the pattern 'subject + used to + base verb', where used to (pronounced /ˈjuːst tə/ before consonants, and /ˈjuːst tu/ before vowels and in final position) functions as a modal verb.

Used to (Doing) Something

On the other hand, we use the pattern be/get used to (doing) something to talk about the idea of being familiar with an action or situation so that it no longer seems strange or new to someone:

After several months of working the night shift, he is used to sleeping during the day, even when the sun is shining brightly.
After several months of working the night shift, he is used to sleep during the day, even when the sun is shining brightly.

I am used to driving long distances, so the three-hour trip to my parents' house doesn't bother me at all.
I am used to drive long distances, so the three-hour trip to my parents' house doesn't bother me at all.

✅ She is getting used to living alone after her roommate moved out, and she's starting to enjoy having the whole place to herself.
❌ She is getting used to live alone after her roommate moved out, and she's starting to enjoy having the whole place to herself.

After several years, we finally got used to summer in Arizona, even with its extreme heat.

They are used to the cold weather now; even when it snows, they go out without a second thought.

'How can you concentrate on your work with all that noise from outside?' 'I've already got used to it; it's like background music to me now.' 

In the above example sentences, you can see the pattern 'subject + be/get used to + gerund/noun/noun phrase/pronoun', where used (pronounced /juːst/) and to function as an adjective and a preposition, respectively. 

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Examples from the Media

I used to insist I didn't get angry. Not anymore. The New York Times (2018)

Some people have a deep distrust of sober people — I know, I used to be one of them, encouraging the teetotaler to "come on just have one". —Otago Daily Times (2023)

I'm used to covering climate change and disaster. But something about kids forced to play indoors at daycare hit me. Toronto Star (2023)

Experts said that Australia needed to get used to a greater Chinese naval presence in seas to its immediate north and west, which in turn would demand more maritime surveillance including in co-operation with Indonesia. —The Sydney Morning Herald (2017)

But the shoot made him re-evaluate 'modern' fashion. Take the houndstooth coat: 'I wouldn't normally choose anything like that, but I really liked it when it was on. I'll wear it all the time now.' The shoot wasn't so bad, either. 'I was nervous at first but got used to it. I started posing a little bit at the end – which isn't me at all!' —Daily Mail (2023)


Choose the correct option to complete each sentence.

1. I used to eat/eating a lot of junk food, but now I try to stick to a healthy diet.

2. She used to live/living in Hong Kong, but she moved to London last year.

3. She is used to live/living in a big city, so the noise doesn't bother her.

4. We used to go/going to the beach every summer, but we haven't been in years.

5. We are used to drive/driving on the right side of the road, so driving in countries where people drive on the left can be challenging.

6. I have got used to wear/wearing masks in public places due to the pandemic.

7. I am used to exercise/exercising in the morning. It helps me start my day on a positive note.

8. They used to spend/spending hours playing video games, but now they prefer outdoor activities.

9. I am used to drink/drinking coffee in the morning, so I feel sluggish if I don't have my daily cup.

10. My family used to own/owning a pet dog when I was a child.

11. I used to read/reading a lot of science fiction, but these days I prefer non-fiction.

12. I am used to wake/waking up early.

13. I used to be/being afraid of public speaking, but now it's part of my job.

14. I got used to work/working over 12 hours a day.

Answer Key

1. eat    2. live    3. living    4. go    5. driving    6. wearing    7. exercising    8. spend    9. drinking    10. own    11. read    12. waking    13. be    14. working

Real-World Examples of Misuse

The bare infinitive live is incorrect with get used to; it should be the gerund living.
(Source: St. Joseph's Primary School)
(Also by the Same School: 1/2/3/4/5)

1. A space is needed between 776 and BC for proper formatting.
2. The original phrase the games were only used to play is awkward and difficult to understand. The revised sentence is clearer and conveys the idea that the Olympics received their name because the sporting events were originally held in the town of Olympia.
3. Numerals that are less than ten are typically spelt out in written text, especially in formal writing.
(Source: Marymount Primary School)

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