Used to Versus Use to, and Other Listener Questions

Find out how to use “used to” and “different from” and how to make acronyms plural.

Mignon Fogarty,
December 7, 2007
Episode #087

used to

About a month ago I answered a bunch of short listener questions, and I promised I'd answer a few more short ones soon. Well, today's the day!

Use to Versus Used to

Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Barrett in Nantucket on Nantucket Island, of course. My question is about the usage of I used to and whether that is I use to u-s-e or u-s-e-d. I referenced it on the Internet and couldn't get a definitive answer on that. Both options seem to come up and it ended up coming to a head today with a lunch with a bunch of construction guys sitting around the bar arguing. And I thought that was pretty funny, and thought now is the time to call Grammar Girl. Thanks. Keep it up.

The right way to say this is used to with a d on the end. People get confused about this phrase because the d and t sounds between the words are easy to run together, but it's easy to remember that used to is the right form. Just remember that when you say you used to do something you are talking about the past, and you make most verbs past tense by adding -d or -ed to the end. So just as you say you heavED yourself into the kayak or twirlED in a circle, you say you usED to have a lot more fun than sitting around at lunch arguing about words. Thanks, Barrett!

Thanks to Luther Killebrew for this addition:

" 'Use to' is correct in the negative and question forms. 'I didn't use to like mushrooms, but now I eat them all the time.' "

Different From Versus Different Than

Grammar Girl, this is Tom in Waco, Texas. I've got three items I'd like to get your opinion on. One is the use of different from versus different than. I always was taught, and this was high school over 50 years ago, that it was always different from.

Hi, Tom. I answer only one question per person, so I chose your first one. Most language experts prefer different from to different than. I keep this straight by remembering that different has two f's and only one t, so the best choice between than and from is the one that starts with an f -- from. Different from.

Next: Making Acronyms Plural

Making Acronyms Plural

Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Kay from Kirkland. If we are using the letters of an abbreviated term—for instance CPA for certified public accountant—I see different usages for two of them. I would think if you were talking about two CPAs who went to lunch it would be CPAs, but I often see it used with an apostrophe s (CPA's). I've seen different usages in The New York Times and Seattle Times. Which do you think is the best usage?

Previously, I reported that although the most common way to make an acronym or initialism plural is to add an "s" to the end, there was one notable holdout: The New York Times, which insisted on using an apostrophe to make acronyms and initialisms plural. Well, I'm thrilled to report that just a few weeks ago, The New York Times changed its style and will no longer use apostrophes to make acronyms and initialisms plural! So I now feel more confident than ever advising you to make initialisms and acronyms plural by simply adding an s to the end.

Neil asked a related question: how to make initialisms plural when you’re pluralizing the first word of the phrase when it is written out. For example, RBI can stand for run batted in or runs batted in. Well, Neil, it's OK to add an s to the end of RBI to make RBIs the plural of runs batted in, even though the s is added to run when you write the whole thing out. So a run batted in is an RBI, and runs batted in are RBIs

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