6. Narrative tenses (used to/would)

In English, when we are telling stories, we often use a small selection of tenses. Principally we use, the past simple, the past perfect, the past continuous, used to, and would. In this section, you’re going to learn how to use used to and would. You will study the others in the next lessons.

Used To

Used to + infinitive

Used to + infinitive should not be confused with + -ing.

It is used for

1. Talking about past situations that are no longer true.

2. Talking about past habits (repetitive past actions) that no longer happen.


1. There didn’t used to be a supermarket there. When will it open?

2. During my school days I used to swim every Thursday.

3. I used to smoke, but I stopped a few years ago.

4. We used to live in New York City when we were kids.


[would + infinitive]

‘Would’ can also be used in place of ‘used to’, however it can not always be used. We can only use ‘would’ to talk about past actions or habits, and not to talk about past states or continuous facts such as living somewhere or an ability.

To form this structure, we place the main verb (s) used in the sentence in front of the infinitive (would + infinitive).

It is used for

1. Often used in stories.

2. Talk about repetitive actions in the past.

Note: When using “would” to mean “used to”, it’s important to know the context of time. Without a reference to the past, it can imply the conditional tense.

We must pay attention to the type of verbs we want to use in our sentences. When we speak of states that we express in verbs such as being, feeling, accepting, or believing, we do not use them. Some verbs we don’t use with ‘would’ are love, like, hate, live, be, and believe.


When I was young, I would ride a bike every Saturday.

My father would read amazing stories to me every night before going to bed.

Every summer until I was 15, we would go to the same beach.

Past simple

We can always use the simple past as an alternative, or talk about past situations or habits. The main difference is that the past simple does not emphasize the repetitive or continuous nature of an action or situation.

It is used for

1. If something happened only once, we should use the past simple. 


I went to London in 2014. 

We went to our grandparents every summer.

I played football every weekend.