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‘To Get Used To’ and ‘To Be Used To’

by Mark January 18, 2021

Are you used to finding English difficult at times? Do you find it hard to get used to new grammar? You used to understand English better when you were at school? One of the difficulties that students face when learning English is that there are several words or phrases that at first glance seem very similar, but actually have very different meanings. In this blog post we’re going to have a look at three of these:

  1. ‘Used To’ as in I used to play football every Saturday when I was a child.
  2. ‘To Get Used To’ as in It’s sometimes hard to get used to living in a foreign country.
  3. ‘To Be Used To’ as in I’ve been living in Ireland for a long time now, so I’m used to the weather here. 

Let’s get cracking and see what’s what!

'Used To'

The first thing that is extremely important to know is that the phrase ‘Used To’ is actually very different from the other two phrases we’re going to study (‘Get/Be’ Used To).

You’ve probably already come across the phrase ‘Used To’ before, as it is usually taught quite early on in language learning. It is used when we want to talk about Past Habits or Repeated Actions in the Past (that don’t happen anymore).

For example:

I used to live in London when I was a child.

My friends and I used to go to the cinema every weekend. 

My sister used to be the manager of a bookshop. 

The way that we form these phrases is by using the Past Simple of the verb To Use followed by – and this is very important – an Infinitive with ‘to’.

The meaning in these sentences is that the actions were repeated actions that happened often in the past – like going to the cinema with my friends – or happened over a long period of time and don’t happen any more – like living in London or my sister managing a book store.

Although it is most common to learn this phrase as ‘Used To’, this can cause problems with grammar when you try to use the next two phrases.  It might actually be more useful to learn this structure as ‘Used’ + Infinitive with ‘to’ – the reason will become clear when we start to look at the next two phrases!

'Used To' = Past Habits/Repeated Past Actions

We use Used to when we talk about our Past Habits or about Repeated Actions in the Past.

(It might be helpful to think of this structure as ‘Used’ + Infinitive with ‘to’)

'To Get Used To'

We use the structure ‘To Get Used To’ to communicate the idea that there is something that we find a little strange. However, even though we still find this strange, we are starting to become accustomed to it – it’s starting to become more ‘normal’ for us as we experience more of it.

For example:

If you go on holiday to a very hot country, during the first days of your visit the temperature will be new for you. During this time, you can say that you are getting used to the heat of the country.

When an employee starts a new job, it is often strange in the beginning. There are a lot of new duties to learn. During these first days in the office, a new employee might say that they are getting used to their new job.

If you move to a new country and in that country they drive on the other side of the road to what you are comfortable with, you can say that you are getting used to driving on the other side of the road.

The structure ‘To Get Used To’ is followed by either a Noun or a Gerund (‘-ing’ form of a verb)

'To Get Used To' = Become accustomed to something

We use To Get Used To when we talk about things which we find a little strange or unusual. ‘To Get Used To’ describes the process of becoming accustomed to these things.

To Get Used To + Noun

I’m getting used to the weather here.

To Get Used To + Gerund (‘-ing’)

I’m getting used to living in this country.

'To Be Used To'

We use the structure ‘To Be Used To’ to communicate the idea that something was strange for us at first, but, after we gained more experience of it, we became accustomed to it – to the point that it is now totally normal for us.

For example:

If you found studying English a little strange at the beginning but you do not find it strange today, you can say: ‘I am used to studying English’

If you thought that the weather in Ireland was very strange when you first arrived but now you do not think it is strange, you can say: ‘I am used to Irish weather’

The structure ‘To Be Used To’ is followed by either a Noun or a Gerund (‘-ing’ form of a verb)

'To Be Used To' = Be accustomed to something

We use To Be Used To when we talk about things which we found a little strange or unusual at first, but now we are comfortable with them. ‘To Be Used To’ describes the state of being accustomed to these things.

To Get Used To + Noun

I’m used to the weather here.

To Get Used To + Gerund (‘-ing’)

I’m used to living in this country.

The Important Grammatical Difference!

As I mentioned earlier in this blog, there is an important difference between the phrase ‘Used to’ and the two similar phrases ‘To Get Used To’ and ‘To Be Used To’.

When we were discussing ‘Used to’ I said that it is helpful to consider the phrase as ‘Used’ + Infinitive with ‘to’ because in this expression we use an Infinitive with ‘to’ after the word ‘used‘.

Contrast this to what we use after ‘To Get Used To’ or ‘To Be Used To’ – after these we can use a Noun or a – here we go! – GERUND! The reason is that in these two expressions, the little word ‘to’ is actually a Preposition and so is not followed by a verb infinitive but in fact by a noun or a gerund form.

Because students are usually so accustomed to using ‘Used to’ with a verb infinitive, a very common mistake students make is to do the same thing when using the phrases ‘To Get Used To’ or ‘To Be Used To’.

For example:

I used to live in Dublin. – CORRECT

I used to drive on the right hand side of the road. – CORRECT

I’m getting used to live LIVING in Dublin. 

I’m used to drive DRIVING on the left hand side of the road. 

The Grammatical Difference

Used To is followed by an Infinitive with ‘to’

I used to live in England

To Get Used To is followed by a Noun or a Gerund

I’m getting used to living in Ireland

To Be Used To is followed by a Noun or a Gerund

I’m used to living in Ireland

Vocabulary

Glance: sight, look

Extremely: very

Habit: an activity that you do regularly

Be accustomed to: something is normal or comfortable for you because you have experience of it

Idioms

At first glance: when you look at or think about something for the first time. Your first glance usually doesn’t give you complete information about the thing you are looking at/thinking about

Have a look: To look at / To study

Let’s get cracking: Let’s begin/start

Test Yourself

5

'To Get Used To' and 'To Be Used To'

Choose the correct verb structure to complete these sentences

1 / 5

She _________ in Madrid before she moved to Dublin to study English.

2 / 5

The hardest thing about moving to Australia was _____________ the time difference.

3 / 5

I've been in this job for 2 years now, so I ___________ all the different activities now.

4 / 5

He _______________ in Dublin now. He came here when he was a child.

5 / 5

The more practice you get, the sooner you ________________ on the left hand side of the road.

Your score is

Thank you for reading our post. You’ll find more English grammar tips elsewhere on our site and if you’d like information on our English courses in Dublin, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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