Used

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Use presents some problems, particularly as verb, with past forms used.

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The problems with use, and more particularly the past forms used, fall into two main (related) groups: pronunciation and spelling.

  • Two pronunciations are involved.
    • The normal lexical verb 'to use' is pronounced with the voiced sibilant '-z-', so that it sounds like 'youze', past forms 'youzed' (IPA: /juːz, juːzd/. The meaning is 'to make use of', 'to utilize', 'to employ'.
    • The semi-modal verb used to, [verb], which means 'was [formerly] the case [but is no longer so', 'it was [my] habit [but no longer is]' as in "I used to be young", "We used to live abroad" or "I used to play football every day", is pronounced with the unvoiced '-s-', as 'youst' /juːst/. In Present-day English, it is always used, in in the past tense - although Jane Austen, among other older writers, wrote the present tense form I use to ... to mean 'it is my habit to ...', where the pronunciation is with '-z-'. Older pedants may feel that it is too informal for academic English, but it seems acceptable to AWE.
    • There is also a formation with past meaning formed with the auxiliary verb 'to do': "He didn't use to be like this". As the past meaning is contained in the past tense of the auxiliary (did, not 'do'), the form of the lexical verb used is the base form use, not the past form used.
The dismissive colloquial command 'get used to it' means 'you must accept it [because I am not going to change it].'
      • The related participial adjective meaning 'to be accustomed to', 'to have the habit of [a noun phrase', often a verbal noun], "He is used to [eating] breakfast at seven", "She was used to better treatment", is also pronounced 'youst'.
  • The spelling difficulties arise from the pronunciation of these two, the semi-modal verb and the participial adjective used to. Since very few people pronounce both dentals - the voiced '-d' and the unvoiced 't-' with any separation, the two letters are commonly assimilated into one. Hence it is not uncommon to see
    • the usual past forms written as use to as in "He use to drink like a fish" (sc. 'He used to drink like a fish"); and
    • the proper way of writing the past tense he didn't use to ... developing an extra '-d' to produce the bastard amalgam he didn't used to.