Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp

How to use ‘would’ to talk about the past

How to use would and used to for the past

Learn how to use would to talk about past habits and review the form used to 

  • Language level: upper intermediate & advanced /  B2, C1
  • Focus: advanced English grammar: past habits
  • Time: 5-10 mins

Can you catch Elisa using 'would'?

We all know ‘would‘ is a complex verb and can be used for many things, such as in a conditional sentence or as a modal verb … but did you know we can also use it to talk about past habits, especially when we reminisce?!

Listen to this snippet from our podcast lesson How to Talk about Fashion in Advanced English

How many times do you hear her using

  • used to?
  • would?

Kerin & Elisa English teachers

Past habits: past simple, used to and would

Read the extract below. Did you catch Elisa saying used to and would?

advanced English grammar
  • The past simple is used to describe states and habits in the past:
  • when I was a young girl
  • I already knew what I liked

We use used to + infinitive to refer to regular repeated actions rather than a specific point or period in time


  • I always used to argue with my mum over outfits! (not I argued with my mum)
  • I went to France last year (not I used to go to France last year)
We use used to + infinitive to contrast the past with the present
  • This restaurant used to be a cinema.
  • I used to work 14 hours a day, but now I only work 8.
Would can replace used to when referring to repeated past actions and events, but NOT STATES
  • Yeah, ‘cause, she would pull out all these really girly clothes
  • Yeah, ‘cause, she used to pull out all these really girly clothes
  • Exactly! And I would be like, ‘No mum!
  • Exactly! And I used to say, ‘No mum!
  • We used to live in Edinburgh (right!)
  • We would live in Edinburgh (wrong!)
  • I used to like romantic comedies (right!)
  • I would like romantic comedies (wrong!)

Further notes: advanced grammar 'would' & 'used to'

Look at these sentences based on the interview with Sir Bobby Charlton from our course Exploring Natural Speech: Regional Accents & Pronunciation

  • I remember when I used to go and watch Newcastle United playing.
  • Footballers didn’t use to get paid very much, not like today
Note the negative form: didn’t use to
You can also say used not to but this is rarer
Didn’t used to is usually considered incorrect.
  • You would go home, and you would do a little bit of some recreation … and you’d play the game on a Saturday
Would is very common in written language and often occurs in reminiscences, like the example above.
When we speak, it’s common to contract the verb: … you’d play the game on a Saturday
We usually put adverbs before used to, but after would:
  • I never used to get up early on a Sunday.
  • I always used to sleep in. 
  • I would never get up early on a Sunday.
  • I’d always sleep in.

Your turn to use 'would' to talk about the past

How much time do you spend on leisure activities compared to 10 years ago? Explain how things have changed.  

Write your answers in the comments for feedback!

Final Activation

Hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson!

Advanced English courses you might like to do!

Practise using the past tenses to talk about habit in our grammar boost included in this course. You can purchase the course as an individual course or find it when you join our Road to English Proficiency programme.

Want to break through the grammar barrierThis course is for you if you want to improve your grammar through meaningful practice that will also help you work on your comprehension and pronunciation skills.

If you liked this post, please share!

Share on linkedin
Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter

Can't get enough free advanced English lessons? Subscribe to our newsletter!

Subscribe to our newsletter for lots of cool content to help take your English from good to great


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you want more English?

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Top posts

Advanced English Course

road to english proficiency

Go beyond what you already know!

Premium online advanced English course for high-level English learners: a unique digital programme combined with personalised support from a qualified Scottish teacher.

What is English Digital Academy?

Kerin English Teacher

Hi! I’m Kerin and I’m the creator of EDA! We are a family run online course academy dedicated to upper intermediate and advanced English learners: original courses with a British English teacher for people who love English!

Business English

Posts for bookworms

Posts by topic

You might also like ...

advanced english quiz 4

Advanced English Vocab Quiz °4

Advanced English vocabulary quizzes Learn native-level advanced English vocabulary  Enjoy an easy-to-read selection of our most liked vocabulary cards on Instagram Learn a small amount often and consistently. Practice

Read More »
English Vocabulary in use Quiz

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz °2

Learn English vocabulary in use with the 2nd quiz in our advanced English vocabulary quiz series!  Learn native-level advanced English vocabulary  Enjoy an easy-to-read selection of our most liked vocabulary cards on

Read More »
Inside English Digital Academy

Get content like this sent directly to your inbox!

Follow us for daily pills of English!

Don't miss out on free lessons!
Join our mailing list.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.