“Used to” in IELTS Speaking

When talking about the past in the IELTS Speaking test, it would be a good idea to use a range of different tenses and not just stick to the same structure in the interview. For example, when answering this question in Part 1,

How do the clothes you wear compare with the clothes your grandparents used to wear when they were young?

the expected response would be for the candidate to use the past tense. A reasonable reply would involve the use of the past simple, such as:

From the old photographs I’ve seen of my grandparents, my grandfather usually wore formal clothes when he was a lot younger. He’d wear these nice suits and dress shoes and a distinguished-looking hat to go with them. Likewise, my grandmother looked really elegant in the old days. She had on these fashionable dresses and was always wearing gloves in her pictures …

In one of our lessons, a student has attempted to use a variety of structures by employing “used to” in his answer. His response went something like:

My grandparents used to wear suits but now we are used to wear T-shirts and jeans.

This is commendable effort on the student’s part in trying to vary the kind of verbs in his answer. Unfortunately, there is some confusion in the words “used to” here. While the first usage is correct, the second one is inaccurate. An appropriate sentence would be:

My grandparents used to wear suits but now we wear T-shirts and jeans.

If you are thinking of using “used to” in the present (and you should!), then the verb construction is different.

auxiliary verb + used to + gerund

This is normally spoken in situations where a person becomes accustomed to or becomes familiar with something that they had never thought was normal or easy.

For example,

We are used to wearing T-shirts and jeans in the summer.


We had not worn T-shirts and jeans in the summer before but now we are becoming familiar with it.

If you are still struggling with his concept, here are some websites with exercises to practise:

Until next time!

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