Talk:used to

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Indefinite past only?[edit]

"Used to" sounds like a reference to a more indefinite past to me. I would use it with adverbial phrases such as " long ago", "some time ago" or "when I was a child". For example, "A few years ago I used to smoke, but I no longer do." Is it still acceptable to use "used to" with more definite time reference, e.g. "Five years ago I used to smoke"? Wouldn't you use Simple Past Tense in this sentence instead: "Five years ago I smoked." —This comment was unsigned.

There are implications of saying "I used to smoke":
  1. A strong one that it was habitual. (One cannot say *"I used to smoke twice" without an explanation and possibly a correction.)
  2. A weak, rebuttable one that I no longer smoke. (One can say both "I used to smoke, but I stopped." and "I used to smoke and I still do.")
Because of the first, strong implication, the appropriate time reference is an interval of time, usually not sharply specified. "I used to smoke in the 60s and 70s, but not tobacco." "I used to smoke, until I got pregnant." ?"I used to smoke from when I went to college until I got married."
There are different implications of "I smoked":
  1. It may only have been once.
  2. Because smoking tobacco etc is known to be habitual, the sense of "smoke" may not refer to something else as in the joke: "Do you smoke after sex?" / "I don't know, I've never looked."
Thus the oddness to me of ?"Five years ago I smoked." It would need further explanation, IMO. OTOH, "Five years ago I smoked" also needs some explanation, in contrast to "Until five years ago, I smoked".
The difficulty in clarifying this is related to the combination of the distinction between completed and not completed actions and between habitual/repeated actions and one-time actions. DCDuring TALK 13:49, 25 February 2013 (UTC)